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A Century of Friday Mornings

By Ed Roberts
May 14, 1987

Originally Published in The Washington Post.

“We are not a ladies’ club. And we are certainly not an old ladies’ club,” laughs Nancy Hallsted, past president of the Friday Morning Music Club, which is just now completing a two-year celebration of its 100th anniversary.

No question about it. A quick check of the FMMC centennial yearbook shows, for instance, that almost 20 percent of its 130 solo pianists are men. And although mention of age is discreetly absent, there are a countable 38 student performing members, all officially between the ages of 14 and 22.

Perusal of the entire 800-strong membership list reveals names of professional musicians quite familiar to Washington audiences, and not a bit over the hill: pianists Evelyn Swarthout Hayes, Carol Yampolsky and Frank Conlon; organist Eileen Guenther; harpist Deborah Fleisher; soprano Elizabeth Kirkpatrick; clarinetist Charles Stier; and composers Lori Laitman and Leonard Moses.

And such luminaries as Jessye Norman, Jeffrey Siegel and Esther Hinds are on the roster as past winners of the 34-year-old Washington International Competition, an annual contest rotating among piano, voice and strings with finals at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, and sponsored by a foundation under the auspices of the club.

It was not always so, according to Hallsted.

“The original group was started in 1886 by 15 women who formed a music repertoire club. They played for each other, studied music together and collected dues.” And penalties. “If a member did not perform for two weeks in a row, she was fined 25 cents.”

But the group changed with the times. The Friday Morning Music Club opened its membership about 25 years ago, and is now open to anyone — performing member or associate member.

“We are both a presenting and a service organization,” continues Hallsted. “Performers are auditioned, and then presented each Friday at noon at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.” There are about 25 such free concerts a season. “One of our philosophies is that every event is free to the public.”

As a service organization, FMMC presents music at retirement centers. According to Hallsted, 21 members performed 111 concerts for almost 4,000 people in 82 retirement homes last season.

With the Washington Performing Arts Society, the club also presents free concerts to local schoolchildren. “WPAS provides us financial backing … and we organize the events and provide many of the artists,” Hallsted says. “Last year we did 900 concerts in the schools.”

Clair Rozier, coordinator for the Friday Club’s upcoming Kennedy Center concert, feels that the 100th anniversary has given the members an opportunity for further change. “The centennial is fraught with symbolism. We are trying to turn the club away from the past 100 years and into the future.”

The celebration began with a concert in October 1985 and continues with more than a dozen centennial events throughout the area. It will end May 24 with a concert at the Phillips Collection.

But the “climactic event,” according to Rozier, will take place Sunday afternoon at the Terrace Theater: the world premiere of Stephen Burton’s “I Have a Dream,” a musical setting of Martin Luther King’s famous speech.

“The idea came from Patrick Hayes {founder of the Washington Performing Arts Society}, and he has remained continually involved,” Rozier says.

The first thing Hayes, dean emeritus of the Washington musical community, did was help FMMC think big. “He procured grants from NEA and major local foundations. The Friday Club wouldn’t have thought this way — that we could make a contribution to the whole musical community,” Rozier says.

The choice of Stephen Burton, music professor and director of the International Arts Festival at George Mason University, was important. For one thing, Burton is local. “That was a priority,” says Rozier. For another, he is a prize-winning composer with a national reputation.

According to Rozier, “The narrator, Samuel Bonds, reads the main text. Salient phrases are set to music for the soprano soloist, Esther Hinds, and the chorus. The piece builds to a joyful climax, but a final statement of the soloist with an unresolved ‘I have a dream … ‘ brings this mighty work to a close. The dream is not yet realized.”

As for the future, Rozier explains, “In our agreement with the NEA, we have committed to do all in our power to have a second performance, and we hope this piece will enter the important repertoire. We all need a relief from ‘Fanfare for the Common Man.’

“Through the competition, we are known everywhere in the world better than here. Now we are trying our best to help the local cultural community realize that this club is going into the 21st century.”

To read the original article, visit The Washington Post.