“I love to play, and this gives me an excuse to practice!”
Allison Raynor’s day job is at Keil’s Antiques, but in her time off she can be found at the piano. She was explaining her fondness for a unique New Orleans music club, the Cadenzas.
For over 40 years, Cadenzas’ meetings have been devoted to musical performances – by the members themselves.
At its beginning, the group’s name was suggested by Helene Godchaux, a music lover but not a member herself. In music, a “cadenza” is a “virtuoso solo passage” – or as longtime member June Aiken explains, “A ‘cadenza’ is a show-off!”
Meetings are held in members’ homes, and one of the usual requirements is for two pianos in the room. According to Aiken, music clubs for two-piano playing can be found throughout the country. As a young wife she belonged to one in Geneva, New York, and had to be invited to tea by a member to be privately observed before being invited to join.
Rachelen Lien, another Cadenza member, recalls that she was invited to play at a meeting and then found that had been her audition when she was invited into membership.
As Raynor says, “When I first came to a meeting, long before Katrina, it seemed that there were these older women – but they were dancing at the piano!”
Raynor and Aiken may differ in years of experience, but they’re regular piano partners. “I love playing with June – she’s an extremely accomplished musician, but she chooses to have fun. She’ll say ‘Let’s play something we both like!’”
The Cadenzas began in 1972, created by faculty wives at Tulane University. Soon they were part of the Women’s Committee of the New Orleans Symphony, and they recruited new musicians to their ranks. As a letter of invitation to membership notes: “Admit it, you’re a closet pianist. You never meant to get hooked but you ended up with the piano when your parents moved to an apartment and there in the bench was all your old sheet music …” Cadenza members can even advise each other on instruments; member Mary Lee Carver credits member Rachelen Lien with helping her find a new piano with just the right sound.
But, members aren’t always pianists. From the beginning, other instruments and singers were welcomed to the club. This is true today, with the major change being that there are now male members. And, members of the Greater New Orleans Music Club are included in meetings. In 2014, a meeting program featured Sheila McDermott singing, accompanied by Donna Settoon at the piano; Elissa Bluth with a piano solo; and Susan Hanemann playing the flute, accompanied by Ryan Celestin at the piano.
The joy of playing with others, and for an audience of musicians, prompted Mary Robert Perkins, pianist and her husband Robert, proficient on both piano and organ, to organize events at the own home.
“It’s very informal,” says Mary Perkins. “My husband and I started playing four hands, and then we thought ‘Why don’t we get some of our friends together?’”
“We decide when the afternoon is going to be, and we invite people to come and play with us.” The program will vary from classical music to jazz. Bob’s son Steve “Spike” Perkins will play his upright bass or his electric bass and perhaps sing. Drums, saxophone, violin and viola have all been in the mix from time to time.
“We don’t have a big house, but it opens out into the garden. We might have the piano music inside, then we move out to the porch and go into the garden.”
On the two inside pianos will be found, besides the Perkins, Cadenzas member Mary Ella Carter. One two-piano piece this year is properly festive: “Champagne Toccata” by William Gillock.
After their musical afternoon, the Perkinses and their fellow performers relax. “We have some wine and hors d’oeuvres and enjoy!”
Cadenzas member Allison Raynor explains: What makes playing for fellow musicians so special? “Everybody is doing it because of love – and there’s a lot of forgiveness!”