UNION COUNTY, NJ — A Tony-nominated Broadway composer, world-class harp authority and impassioned, dedicated musical teachers are among those who will perform at the Musical Club of Westfield’s centennial concert, as current and former members prepare to commemorate the club’s century-long affair with the arts later this month.
All of the performers, some having been with the club for more than 50 years, share an appreciation for music, often with a classical bent. That characteristic is as old as the club itself, which was born when local musicians began putting on concerts in each other’s homes.
“It started with a group of women who were musicians themselves. They played the piano, the violin, the flute, and so on, and they would gather in each other’s homes and start to perform for each other, and maybe have a cup of tea and a couple of cookies,” said Drude Crane, the club’s Vice President and organizer of the centennial concert. “That’s how it began, in 1915.”
It rapidly grew and evolved into a club that supported the dreams of aspiring musicians. In 1922, the Musical Club of Westfield gave a $25 stipend to a Westfield woman for piano lessons — “which, in 1922, was a fair amount of money,” said Crane — and the support of students only snowballed from there.
A tradition of annual scholarships, according to Crane, has grown to serve as a helping hand for the education of more than 140 students.
“We do have a list of our scholarship list winners going back to 1922, and we have them all in the program,” said Crane. “It’s an amazing legacy, and we have been very blessed over the years, that members have endowed us with enough money to have a substantial amount to invest. It varies year-to-year how many students we are supporting, what the amounts are, but the average is about $15,000 a year that we’re able to give out.”
Among those who have been aided by the club are its many returning members, including 1944 recipient Grace Hull, who will be at the concert; Kathleen Bride, a former student at Cranford High School who went on to become the head of the Harp Department at Eastman University, “one of the most premier music schools in the country,” said Crane; and Westfield native Matthew Sklar, a Tony-nominated Broadway composer who wrote the music for “The Wedding Singer” and “Elf.”
“I have a personal delight in that, because I taught him when he was in kindergarten,” said Crane, who was a music teacher for 40 years. Part of what’s helped the club stay relevant, added Crane, is an emphasis on teaching children at a younger age. “The important thing, in terms of fostering good music, is to always have good performances out there of a variety, so there’s always something for everybody. Besides the scholarships, we go into the schools. We come in and demonstrate how to play the flute, or show them what a harpsichord is, and what it looks like on the inside.”
As the audience for classical music skews older, it’s important to get young people involved through scholarships, said Crane. To that end, the Musical Club of Westfield has incorporated an active, junior club, which that meets in each other’s homes, much like the original members did 100 years ago.
“Classical music, we have to agree, is a niche audience. There’s a whole lot of people who are not into classical music. We’ve been in existence in Westfield for 100 years and many people in our local area, in the Greater Westfield Area, really don’t know of us if they’re not into classical music,” said Crane. “I got the idea for this three years ago. I said ‘my main goal is to get the word out there. We exist, we do good work, we perform for each other. But you don’t have to be a performer — if you just want to come and listen, it doesn’t cost a thing.’”
This arts program is made possible in part by a grant from the Westfield Foundation and a HEART grant.
The Centennial Concert will be held at First Baptist Church, 170 Elm St, Westfield, at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22. A donation of $15 is suggested and a reception will follow the concert.