A Catskill Mountain Foundation Summer

The Catskill Mountain Foundation’s summer experience offered music, education and a summer filled with arts. Believe it or not, this all was in Hunter, NY. I talked with the public, with the artists and got to ask them any question that I wanted. It is so rare to actually get to converse with the artists after a performance, but there was always the opportunity after the shows at the Doctorow Center for the Arts during the reception following the show. I also observed the role CMF plays in education, specifically the CROP Summer School Program. The students were taught to dance, make puppets, play music and supplement that with a little math on the side. The Arts were a prevailing aspect of the summer school program. I found myself wishing I had had that option.

Watching Before the Deluge: Music from Versailles & Paris, Masters at Play: From Classics to Jazz, Sounds of the 1790’s and Two to Tango left myself with a new respect for classical music, tango and jazz. It left me looking forward to next years CMF season of the performing arts with anticipation and enthusiasm.

I wanted to share with readers pictures and encourage others to try this experience out. It will open doors for your mind, while actually giving your head a massage with musical interludes. Win, win?


By Vicki Thompson

Lucille: The American Experience Through The Eyes of The Piano

Lucille, the 1865-1866 Steinway Square Grand 


You could say that I wear my heart on my sleeve. What you see and hear is what you get. That’s me, Lucille.  My owner, Molly had an ear for tuning; her ears being quite large at that too. I sometimes thought she could hear me thinking, which is odd seeing that I am a piano and she a human.  Molly seemed to be insecure about her ears except when around me.  I would overhear Molly telling her sister, Betty, that she could hear Cyril’s war letters being written days before they arrived on her doorstep.  I doubt her ears were ever that dexterous, but they did save my life.

I was an orphan when I arrived at Cyril and Molly’s humble abode and I could swear Molly heard my cries from the dusty basement where my previous owners held me captive. Once the Civil War commenced, the previous old and stale owners forgot about me, so I have erased them from my mind. I’m a piano, I can do that. It was unfortunate though and their loss, because I am a diamond in the ruff. I have a full 88 keys while most of my friends have only 85 keys. And, I am most certainly all legs If I do say so myself…I mean, look at my cabriole curves of the Victorian era…I also have to mention my unique Steinway patented innovation of “Overstrung Bass Strings” to allow for greater length of my strings. I am not humble.

That’s when Cyril and Molly rescued me. Cyril was leaving to war and wanted to make sure Molly had an outlet for her emotions. You see, the whole large ear thing, Molly didn’t leave the house much. She often got ridiculed and this worried Cyril. If she couldn’t exercise her ears through listening to him, he felt it necessary to leave me to handle the situation. I was A-ok with that.

Instead of restoring me when I arrived in my new home, Molly and Cyril decided to conserve me. Molly told Cyril I sounded musical and in tune with myself already. I mentioned, I am a gem, right? Anyways, those ears always seemed to make the decisions in the household, to which I couldn’t argue because those ears are the reason my true voice is revealed.  So they conserved me, retaining all my parts, strings, keys, ivories and hammer-felts leaving me as bionic as could be. There may be traces of wear and tear in my voice, but Cyril always referred to that as, life’s trials and tribulations weighing in. Molly called this, fatigue. Similar to how Picasso went though his blue period and Jung suffered and persevered through a depression, my voice goes off into the darkness that lies within my past basement captivity days. Don’t let this fool you though; I’m not tired or sad. I am told we are all the sum of our experiences. We’ll just call it character….

Anyways, I am here to tell a tale of the Civil War. This tale requires you to be all ears, like Molly, and listen.

Disclaimer: You’ll need your eyes too.

7. 1865 Civil War Steinway

A Glimpse into the Civil War Through the Eyes of a (beautiful) Piano

A pervasive sound of loss and longing is played by Molly. It circulates through my lungs, or soundboard, and out into the room.  The sound comes from all over my frame or chest. A lower key comes from my left side, and a higher key comes from the right. You can chase each note, running back and forth. It’s enough to give your head and body a full musical experience. Molly puts her hair up in a bun as she plays. No one ever has direct sight of her big ears like I do.

I suppose I should explain the melancholic sounds of loss and longing filling the air. The Civil War is happening. Cyril is off in battle. Molly channels her sadness through me and doesn’t leave the house much. Her favorite piece to play is the Ashokan Farwell. Molly cries after she plays me sometimes.


A letter from Cyril arrived in the mail yesterday. Molly read it out loud as if she knew I could hear her.



Dear Molly,

 General McClellan is preparing for battle with the Confederates, I have supreme faith the Union will prevail.  I am well and in fair spirits. Although I am tired, every moment is worth it. I miss you and your company. I hope you are enjoying the Steinway.  I look forward to hearing the music fill the acoustics of our house and being with you once again. I know you can hear me as I say goodnight.

 Cheers Big Ears,



This letter left both Molly and me filled with terror. I am a piano, what do I know? Well, I have a sixth sense. You see, music tells of the past, present and future. The war will not be ended until bloody massacre has occurred. I feel as though I might not have the opportunity to see Cyril again. His memory will only be shared by tales played on my keys. If this is my purpose then I shall live true to it. Just as the styles of pianos are changing so are the laws and ways of the people in America today.

Over the next couple of days Molly laid on the floor with her hands muffled over her ears. The attack of Antietam was occurring. I couldn’t hear it, but Molly could with her ears. She heard the sound of 20 thousand deaths.

What did this experience feel like for me over those few days? I felt weak at times, overwhelmed by the sadness. I was gasping for breath with the dust collecting on my strings and my keys beginning to stick to my frame. Molly places a black shawl to protect me on days where she has less hope. My pink shawl is used when we have guests or receive letters with good news. As Molly heard the sound of many deaths, the only shawl I saw was the black one.

I had to keep in mind my role. It is to share music and transport people, especially Molly, to places that reflect memories and reveal hope. The meaning of death and dying is significant these days as Molly and I would soon find out…..


Part II


The obligation of the living to care for the dead became evident on the day of 9/18/1862 when Molly received the last letter from Cyril. The aura is dark this day, the windows are closed and the grieving begins…


 Dear Molly,

 I have been wounded among the thousands during the Antietam attack. It was the bloodiest day I hope America will ever have to see. There was an atrocious madness in my fellow soldiers’ eyes I have never seen before. I replay the sounds of music in my head for solace. I think of the sounds from the first day I met you, I hear the sound of war tunes, and I hear the sounds of the future, the sounds of freedom. I am dying a good death, it is for the freedom of man, and for that fact alone I can rest in peace. One day we will be reunited…until then, remember me through the piano when you are lonely.

 Cheers Big Ears,



The music stopped, the house went silent, the noise white.



If was as if Molly heard President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation with her large ears. On January 1st. 1863 Molly began playing pieces filled with life. Music was medicine again!

Molly opens the windows and rids the house of my black shawl. I am no longer cold. I feel the upper outward curves of my legs showing without a coating of dust.

There is still a somber nature in the air. But Molly is alive again, and therefore, I am alive to share stories again. I am revived with the hope of redefining this country with one song at a time.

 Part III

That’s a piece my tale.

That’s a piece of my song.

That’s my American Piano Experience.

~Lucille, The 1865-66 Steinway Grand

6. 1865 Civil War Steinway detail


Written by: Vicki Thompson

Interview with Aaron Diehl: The Musical Weaver, The Jazz Composer, The Real Deal



Talking with Aaron Diehl, a man who claims to be more of listener than a talker at times, was an opportunity to observe a reflection of his education and commitment to the music and its traditions. He continues to evolve and unite audiences as well as composers. I am excited to see where the future takes him -Vicki Thompson 

When did you find your own original jazz voice and how did you know it was that light-bulb moment?

I would imagine it was when I was about 13 or so. It was at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp. I heard a man, his name is Eldar Djangirov. He’s sort of a jazz prodigy. I thought maybe I’d like to give a shot at playing more jazz because my grandfather’s a jazz musician. That’s when I started listening to more of it and ultimately, from listening, trying to discover how to play it. But I didn’t really start until I was an early teenager.

Who will be joining you for your Trio for the show October 18th?

It’ll be a quartet. This is an annual series that we started called Masters on the Mountain Top, so it features some sort of jazz masters. Last year it was Lew Tabackin, this year it is Steve Nelson. He’s this tremendous vibraphonist and is probably most notable for playing with Mulgrew Miller, another jazz-pianist, in his Wingspan group. That will also feature Dezron Douglas on the bass and Pete Van Nostrand on the drums.

I was watching this episode of Young Arts Master Class with Wynton Marsalis and he did this really cool thing where he divvied up the roles within a trio of students he was working with. He designated the piano player to be like congress, because the piano has all the notes, the bass is the judicial branch with the final word, and the saxophone is like the president. For people who are less acquainted with you, your trio and special guest, would you say the roles are similar to this description?

When you’re playing with somebody older, automatically, whether it’s a group that you put together or not, you’re always going to defer to the older person. This weekend I’m playing with Lew Tabackin and Matt Wilson. They are older than I am. It’s important when organizing a group that they have the final say on what they would like to do. Most people are cooperative so when you have a suggestion and you’re younger and say, “Oh, we can do this,” they’re going to say, “Oh, that’s fine, we can do that.” So you always give deference to the older person. Now, Steve Nelson, who’s probably in his sixties now, I’ll call him up and ask him, “Steve, what would you like to play? What tunes do you want to do?” Then I make the determinate of how the repertoire is going to be organized. After, when we get up onto the band stand, we’re all pretty much equal in terms of all wanting to be empathetic, listening to each other and simply making music together.


I wouldn’t have guessed that, you’re courteous to the eldest musician and I think that’s really cool.

Yeah, it’s like an unspoken rule.

It’s like when you get on the bus.


How did you get involved as the Artistic Director of the Catskill Jazz Factory?

I met Piers Playfair through Stanley Krauss, who’s a great writer and critic. Stanley had recommended me to help Piers with constructing some sort of program for jazz in that region.

Will you be performing some pieces from your latest album, The Bespoke Man’s narrative?

I probably will play one or two compositions.

“Generation Y” from your album The Bespoke Man’s narrative is lively, upbeat and fast. I listen to it and I feel like I’ve run a marathon, the daily free-spirited marathon of the Y generation. Can you describe your inspiration behind “Generation Y” from that album?

My inspiration, I suppose it was the face of the band that I work with; it’s comprised of Generation Y musicians. So, I suppose that’s why I wrote it or why I came up with the title.

In the New York Daily News published on December 16th, 2012 in an article called “Young Jazz Piano Star, Aaron Diehl, is Happiest in a Group Setting” you stated, “It’s not just about me, it’s about bringing together people who are younger, people who are older and, ultimately, people who are listening to the music and figuring out how we can speak together.” Now I know that you don’t have 5 decades of playing underneath you, but have you noticed a change in the audiences from when you began playing? Are people figuring out how to communicate?

There’s a misconceived notion that one has to be an expert in jazz in order to enjoy it. The truth is that the music has to be good to enjoy it. If the musicians who are playing have a powerful enough command of playing it and an approach that is artistically potent but also accessible to people, then it’s a no-brainer in terms of the enjoyment level. But many times you’ll hear musicians that don’t necessarily have that kind of combination, so the listener can get lost. So, I find that audiences simply have to find the right musicians to be able to enjoy jazz music because it’s certainly there for people to enjoy.

You’ve been to our Piano Performance Museum before; did you feel like a kid in a candy shop?

It was great! I remember playing a piano from 1789, piano from the late 19th century, turn of the 20th century and then of course modern pianos as well. To play repertoire that was written for these specific instruments because the piano has gone through a series of development though the past 200 years. And playing Beethoven or Mozart on a modern Steinway piano is very different from playing on a piano that existed in the mid to late 18th century.

I just wanted to touch on your muse and creative process. When is your favorite time and place to compose?

I compose after breakfast.  The best time of the day.

In what direction do you see your personal music style developing over the next ten years?

I want to continue to just absorb the traditions of music that’s been established, the mystery that finds my own unique approach to playing and to writing. So many times we talk about the music in eras, we talk about the swing era, we talk about early New Orleans music or we talk about bebop. We have a lot of names for jazz. But the truth is, all of these styles or eras, if you want to use that word, have something in common; there’s a common thread. And, I always think of myself as a weaver, or sewer. You’re connecting the dots between the various lineages, the various times, eras, if you will, of the music. You’re using all of that to create an arsenal for an individual unique way of playing. I never see the music as being separated in boxes, they’re all connected, woven.


Thanks Aaron! 

Interview done by Vicki Thompson on September 5th, 2014


To purchase tickets to Aaron Diehl’s performance on October 18th  at the Doctorow Center for the Arts go to http://www.catskillmtn.org/events/calendar.html?date=2014-10-18

CMF Employee Spotlight, Carolyn Bennett


Interviewing Carolyn was an educational, philiopshical excursion into a true artists head. Carolyn works diligently as the head of the Marketing Department and the Gallery Manager at the Catskill Mountain Foundation. Enjoy the ride my friends! ~Vicki Thompson

Carolyn, Can you please tell me your favorite past time?


Your favorite present time?


Do you own an iPod?

I do now.

What kind of music is on that iPod?

I think it’s Radiohead.

What is your favorite word?



How long have you worked as director of the Marketing Department/ Manager of the Gallery / Grant Writer at the CMF?

I worked as the manager of the bookstore for about 7 or 8 years. That morphed into bookstore gallery manager for less than a year, I think, when we moved the bookstore into the gallery. And, what else do I do? Oh, Marketing. Marketing, I think I’ve been doing for two years now. And what else?

And you do some grant writing as well.

Oh yes, the grant writing. I’ve done the grant writing from the beginning, but I would do small grants. And then they’ve just gotten larger.

What would you like generation Y, people born during the 1980s and early 1990s, to know about the CMF?

That it’s here and it’s really great. I was involved with the CMF from the beginning, over 15 years ago as its grant writer. Then I left and had a whole sojourn here, there and everywhere. When I came back I saw that it was beginning to morph into something that I have always admired, Joseph Papp’s public theater. Just recently the CMF made a move from Hunter Village Square over to the Doctorow Center. Now it really reminds me of the theater because we have the public performing space, we have the arts space, 3 movie theaters, we have offices, we have the Piano Performance Museum and we have a concession stand. And, maybe, one day we’ll have a café, so that’s really exciting.

It’s like its own little city over there.

It’s like its own little art city over there, it’s cool.

As the role of gallery manager, what attracts you to the artists you pick?

I’m going to talk as if I know what I’m talking about. For me, art transforms. It isn’t just decorative, pretty, and colorful. There’s something about the way the artist sees something that strikes a chord in me. Or, maybe even makes me look away. But, it makes me feel something deeply and I think about it. So that’s what attracts me to certain art and artists.

But running a gallery in the Catskills, I guess it’s like running a gallery in any place other than large metropolitan areas. You have an obligation to the artists that live in the area to honor them. As smaltzy as it sounds, if you can’t honor that which is in your community, then, you can’t honor anything from outside. So I look for both of those. I’m looking for artists that have personal visions, not to the exclusions of colorful landscapes and things like that, that has a place too. But, I’m really looking for those transformative experiences.

You are a published author and in my opinion a great one at that. You allow the reader to feel, to think and to perceive. You put on no facade or sugar coating. Can you describe your creative process, do you have any rituals before you write?

First of all, I know I promised to take you to lunch if you said that, so thank you! Where do you want to go to lunch? Rituals, no, I don’t think so. I’ve thought a lot recently about clearing my mind. What happens is, I’ll start to think about something consciously and then it becomes automatic. So, I’m still thinking about it, but I don’t know that I’m thinking about it. So when I’m driving home, and all of a sudden I hear these people talking in my head and having a conversation about something that I want to write about, I know that if I sit down and try to write about it, I can’t. So a lot of times I have to pull over to the side of the road and I write it down. And then I think, eh, this is pretty good. I don’t know where it came from. It had to have come from inside me somewhere. That’s why I don’t like certain types of writing, because you have to write on cue, and I’m not interested in that. This is going to sound funny coming from someone who does some marketing. I think writing on cue, trying to sell something to the public, that language is often inauthentic to me. Behind the language is nothing. So you can describe something with ten superlatives, but it doesn’t get any closer to the experience and sometimes it really can be falsifying the experience. Whereas, it’s going to sound pretentious but, when I write for myself, the way it feels to me, and not even descriptively, but there’s some amount of the words are trying to get there, they never quite do. But there’s an attempt to try to describe with words that which is within. You know what I mean? It’s sort of like, I know, it’s a very famous painting but Munch’s The Scream. You don’t even need a sound coming, you can feel the anguish of that. If the person said anything more than one big loud scream and started saying, “I am in pain!” You would think that’s so phony. It’s that close to silence that you almost want to apologize for having written it down. That’s the way I feel. That’s why I find it very hard to share my writing with anyone. Rituals, like pencils, no. I find that even though I have an office upstairs in my house, I like it best when I’m sitting at my dining room table and I can get a million cups of coffee and I can spread papers out everywhere.

Going back to the voices in your head, now correct me if I’m wrong, in the past, people used to believe that creativity was this “thing” or energy, and you and I would just be normal, the same. Creativity would come and enter you and then leave you after it’s work was completed. Do you feel like these voices could be something along that line?

People talk about a muse and the muse comes and bababa….I don’t think that that’s true for everyone. I think when certain novelists sit down, like the mystery novelist Tana French, and when she writes a book, I don’t think that she’s waiting for inspiration. I think that she’s an observer of outside of herself. She very good at plotting things, narratives, conclusions; all those things that make up a story. I’m not so sure that I’m making up a story. I think I’m look deeply within myself, not necessarily a good thing by the way. Then, something inside me, it has to be inside me, I don’t think that it comes from outside of me. It answers me. I believe that life is a fiction in this sense, it has dimensions. I can bang on this desk and my hand doesn’t seem to go through, things like that. I think I make up my personality, I choose the pieces of my personality. I make this creation called Carolyn. There’s a Carolyn that gets me though every day. That Carolyn is kind of boring, she goes to work, she goes back home, she goes to work again. She’s not likely to speed while she’s on the road or get onto a motorcycle. There’s a Carolyn, inside me, there’s a couple of them, and I know they’re fictions. But, they could have been choices. So there’s a Carolyn that’s so wild, that I could have been tattooed everywhere, I could have gotten on a motorcycle, I could have driven all around the world with just a roll at my back to sleep on. I chose not to be that Carolyn, because that Carolyn was too painful. Even when I came close to that Carolyn, it wasn’t going in a very good direction. I could have chosen another Carolyn, wife and mother, I did not. All those Carolyn’s are there in my head and they talk to one another. I know, the doctor is coming… but that’s the way it feels.

No, that’s a good way to put your perception into words and articulate it. There’s a lot going on in everyone’s head and to be able to divide it up into paths that enabled you become the Carolyn that is sitting in front of me now is pretty great. I’m glad this is the one you chose.

Thank you

You’re Welcome! What makes a book click for you? You seem to like fiction. Is there a certain rhythm in the writing?

There’s definitely a rhythm within the writing. I actually hear it. I hear the sentences as if they are rhythmic and going together. I don’t feel that if I’m writing a press release or article about something. But, in my own writing I definitely feel stops, starts, lots of breaths and hardly any breaths. That propels me. What makes a book for me is usually a silly conceit that no one else would care about. I am still trying to write a book, it’s called My Life is David Copperfield. It amuses me, I laugh. (She did) It’s about a bookseller who is locked inside of Barnes and Noble because of a series of events. A flood is one of them. And, everyone else has gone home so that there’s no way the bookseller can go home because the roads are all washed out. Anyways, these characters come to her. Emily Dickenson, Freud and Jung come to her. Freud and Jung start arguing with one another. Meanwhile, she knows how to use the cappuccino machine, so she’s making them cappuccinos and brings the drinks back to them. Then Freud or Jung, I can’t remember which one, spills a little bit of coffee. They start to interpret the spill, start to argue over what they see in that coffee spill on the table. So these ghosts of literary wander in and out and she’s able to talk to them about things she’s wondered about them. Basically, I think because not much has really happened to me in my life, except inside my head. So, these characters are more real to me in a very loose sense than a lot of people are to me.

I would love to get stuck in Barnes and Nobel and have that experience.

Who would come to you?

Some of the names you mentioned…

I always wanted to ask Emily Dickinson, because I’ve read everything about her, by her, about her brother, her sister. Everybody’s trying to figure out who was that love in her life that made her be so reclusive. She’s like a Rorschach test, because someone might say Samuel Lord, among others. I came to the conclusion that it was her sister-in-law, Sue, which married Austin. They lived within a short path of one another. Emily’s house was a garden path walk away from Austin and Sue’s house. Actually, Emily got Austin to marry Sue. So, in my fantasy I got to ask her if I was right. I won’t tell you what she said. But anyways, that’s not finished yet.

What do you foresee as the future of CMF?

I would like to see it more like the public theater. I would like to see more people and young people who live here year round embrace it. What I believe is that, not only does art transform, but also art saves. I think that it offers something so critically important in everyone’s life, whether you live in the country or you live in the city. You have a great opportunity up here because a lot of people don’t have this. It isn’t something that a community has a right to and it isn’t something that stays forever. It has to be nurtured and cherished. It has to become your own. So, I would really love it if more young people came to our events and told us what they would like to see and share their creativity with us. That’s what I’d like to see.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?

In case people come by and don’t recognize me, I look different without my make up on.

Well thank you!

Thank you.