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This musician plans to perform 251 concerts — in every Vt. city and town — for a cooler climate

A photo of a person playing a piano, with a wood paneled wall in the background.
Bailey Beltramo
/
UVM Communications
Pianist David Feurzeig is taking his climate activism on the road and will play a free concert in every Vermont city and town over the next four years.

David Feurzeig is a professor of music at the University of Vermont and a touring composer and pianist.

He recently gave up flying as a way to lessen his carbon footprint. Now he'll spend the next four years playing a concert in every Vermont city and town — driving there in an electric vehicle, and playing whatever piano is available.

More from VPR: WATCH: How is climate change projected to affect Vermont over the next 30 years?

The Play Every Town Vermont concerts' programs vary from classical to jazz and ragtime to Feurzeig's own compositions. He will also enlist local student musicians from each town and city to join him.

VPR's Mary Engisch recently met with Feurzeig at VPR so he could play the Steinway Grand Piano in the Stetson Studio One. The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. The conversation starts with Engisch noticing an inscription on Feurzeig's watch, which he removed before playing the piano. He said he's recently begun wearing the watch that once belonged to his grandfather.

Mary Engisch: It has an inscription, what does it say on it?

David Feurzeig: It says, "To Fred Kahn, friend and teacher. " You know, in any line of work, you can be a friend, and you can be a teacher.

I stopped flying a few years ago. And at first I was really quiet about it, you know? Because it's almost impossible to start a conversation with that, without people feeling defensive and accused. And like there's a moralistic element. So I didn't really tell anybody.

Being able to talk about this tour and this sort of, you know, melodramatic mission to play every town in Vermont, it gives me a way to talk about it, that's depersonalized. And people don't feel as defensive.

David Feurzeig plays an original composition, "Bela's Blues," recorded in VPR's Stetson Studio.

And in fact, there's a lot of resonance that people have with this idea. From other musicians, from audiences, people really understand viscerally that we're in a crisis, and that we need to completely rethink the way that we do everything.

I'm not a climate scientist, and I'm not a political scientist or an economist. But yeah, I follow this stuff somewhat obsessively, because I'm terrified about what's happening.

I think it's less about what people do, and more that, again, we're talking about this, because the changes that we need to make are individual and institutional.

But institutional changes are impossible to imagine in a social climate where we're not talking about this, and where we're continuing in our daily lives to do business as usual.

How did you arrive at the idea for the Play Every Town Vermont tour?

This is something that the Vermont Symphony Orchestra did back in the 1980s. Where, in celebration of their 50th year, and their mission to serve the entire state, and not just one locality.

That's probably where I got the initial idea. I'll be driving around the state in a solar-powered EV.

"[T]he median town size in Vermont is 1,400. There's a lot of places without an obvious concert venue that has a working piano, but finding them in the woodwork, calling around and seeing what's out there, is kind of fun."
David Feurzeig

So, I'm looking not just for a place to play at every town, but ideally, a place with a piano. And that's turning out to be a sort of exciting, kind of, "Where's Waldo?" fun quest.

Now, the median town size in Vermont is 1,400. There's a lot of places without an obvious concert venue that has a working piano, but finding them in the woodwork, calling around and seeing what's out there, is kind of fun.

And David, are you doing all of the booking and the finding of the venue and the piano for the concert dates?

I have a team of crack interns who are all majors in UVM's Music Technology and Business concentration.

And I want to invite listeners: If you know of places that might be interested in hosting us, or if you have suggestions of places to play, we're particularly interested in venues with workable pianos in smaller, out-of-the-way places. But we're open to all suggestions.

You can go to the website or you can write your suggestions to playeverytown@gmail.com.

And it has a bit of a retro aspect to it, too. When Bach was a young man, when he was 20, and had his first main gig working for a petit prince in southern Germany, he wanted to hear a concert by a great northern German organist. So he asked for a month's leave to go hear this organist, because he had to walk 280 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck.

That's like walking from New York City to Burlington, in order to hear this organist, and then walk all the way back.

Bach, maybe the greatest Western composer of all time, was somehow able to advance the art of music without, as you say, hopping on a plane.

David Feurzeig performs, "Happy Birthday, Martin," a transcription from a Cliff Jackson record; the boogie-woogie (middle) section from Cliff jackson; the outer sections by Feurzeig.

We're learning as we go. We're giving ourselves four and a half years. I've said I'll finish by the end of 2026.

That's roughly a concert a week, and there are plenty of, you know, professional performers who do a lot more than that! But I think this is manageable. We'll see.

Feurzeig's next concert is Sunday, June 12 at Hazen Union High School in Hardwick.

The program will feature performances by the Hazen Union music faculty, and flutist Leah Gagnon will perform Poulenc's, "Flute Sonata." Soprano Mavis MacNeil will perform songs by Brahms as well as her own setting of Robert Frost’s “The Oven Bird." Hazen Union students Abram Leveillee and Elias Robertson will sing as well.

Feurzeig's solo selections will include music by Mozart and Chick Corea in celebration of Corea's birthday on June 12, 1941.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch by tweeting us @vprnet.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered, Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday.
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