LEWISTON – Dr. Donald Christie wants to share the music.

The creator of a series of piano concerts at Lewiston’s Franco-American Heritage Center features both veteran pianists and young up-and-comers. And its audiences are growing.

“Word is getting out,” Christie said.

The persistent doctor wants more though, especially teens and preteen youngsters who may be a little suspect of long-dead composers or music without lyrics.

He convinced an anonymous donor to subsidize ticket sales to every concert in the series – making admission free for anyone 21 or younger.

“Bringing children into the world of classical music brings them consciously into touch with something they already have in them: a sense of rhythm, harmony and the joy of making music,” Christie said.

Music teacher John Neal puts it more simply:

“Dr. Christie is building an audience for classical music.”

In September, Neal filled a bus with about 30 students from Oak Hill High School, where he is the music director, and drove to Lewiston.

The piano series welcomed every student for free to see renowned pianist Frank Glazer perform with his former student, Duncan Cumming.

When the performance was over, the kids were ushered backstage. They spent about 30 minutes with the pianists. They asked about how much time they rehearse and how they decided what to play.

Christie stood in the back and watched.

“It was a conversation back and forth, between Duncan, Frank and the kids,” Christie said. “The students found out that they were very warm, very welcoming and very human.”

The evening was meant as a primer on attending a concert. In classes, they’d spent time on concert etiquette such as how to dress and when to applaud. For instance, T-shirts and jeans could be interpreted as disrespectful to the performers. And clapping between movements is frowned upon as it interrupts the composer’s transitions.

“We live in a stadium culture,” Neal said. “They haven’t learned this stuff.”

Under his direction, the kids were well-dressed and sat on their hands when other folks mistakenly applauded.

“They really stepped up and were a great audience,” Neal said.

Some of those teens will likely return on Saturday, when the season’s second of seven concerts in the piano series will feature 19-year-old Justine Pelletier of Quebec. Neal’s students will even earn music credit for attending.

“They will know how to act and they won’t be intimidated,” he said.

No audience member should be, said Christie, who started the series after he helped select the center’s Steinway grand piano with pianist George Lopez in Queens, N.Y.

The piano series became a way of putting the handmade piano to use, he said.

And Lopez, who teaches piano at New Hampshire’s Phillips Exeter Academy, gave a concert in the series last year and is scheduled to return on Feb. 16, 2008.

He looks forward to the concert.

Part of it is the piano and the venue – he was the first pianist to play here – and part of it is meeting kids. On every Friday afternoon before a Saturday concert, the series sponsors a 1 p.m. class with students.

“There is a lot of elitism associated with classical music,” Lopez said. The antidote is exposure.

Some kids will learn just by watching the down-to-earth pianist sit and play.

“Nothing is as good as live music,” Christie said. “We sense that it is something in us already that is coming out.”

For Lopez, no other place matches it. Maybe poetry alone could describe the feeling of those playing their first few notes, he said.

“This is where I belong,” he said. “I’ve now been transported to heaven.”


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