photo credit: Carrie Turner

A Passion for Piano

by Karen Boyd, Former AAPF President and AAPF Co-Founder

Summer 2008

What would inspire twenty professional musicians to volunteer their performances for our Annual Fall Benefit Concert of the Asheville Area Piano Forum (AAPF) at the Diana Wortham Theatre? Answer: a passion for piano music and a desire to raise money in order that talented, but financially challenged youngsters can afford to take piano lessons. These dedicated musicians play solo and ensemble music in a variety of styles to help fulfill the charitable mission of the Piano Forum.

AAPF is a non-profit organization of over eighty members who meet during the year to enjoy lectures, demonstrations, and stories about the piano and those who play it. Many of the group either currently are, or have been, teachers of the instrument. However, there are also members who are adult students and others who simply have a love of keyboard music which they hope to foster and share with kindred spirits.

The AAPF, originally the Asheville Piano Teachers Forum, was born in the winter of 1992, when a group of about eight piano teachers gathered to discuss teaching methods and to share professional expertise informally with each other. The group met regularly as friends in each others homes, sponsored student recitals, and started to hold supportive performance groups where they played music for one another.

The Forum's intimate and enjoyable performance groups eventually gave birth to the first concert given by member teachers of the APTF. The "Premiere Members Concert" in the winter of 2002 was so successful that it raised funds above those needed to cover the expenses of renting its venue, the Unitarian Church, its reception, and its printed programs. The pleasant dilemma of what to do with the money earned was solved when members decided to lend financial support to students' families who were having difficulty paying for private music lessons, as well as to students hoping to attend summer music camps and festivals. So it was that the Forum's Student Assistance Awards came into existence.

Growing popularity and enthusiasm generated by the Members' Benefit Concerts prompted support of the annual event by the Susanne Marcus Collins Foundation, thus allowing the Piano Forum to move the Third Fall Benefit Concert to the beautiful Diana Wortham Theatre which is home to a concert Hamburg Steinway piano. The former Dunham's Music store also lent support, by donating the use of a second piano for the Fourth Annual Benefit Concert. Hence, another tradition was born: not only would music for two pianos be performed, but the Forum introduced eight-hand piano quartet performances to the stage, as the concert's finale offered a festive, lighthearted, eight-handed rendition of Stars and Stripes Forever.

As APTF gained even greater visibility in Western North Carolina due to the Members' Concerts, its membership rapidly grew. The organization, now sporting a newly chartered 501(C)(3) tax exempt status, attracted interest among people who were not necessarily either active teachers or professional pianists. Wanting to increase its outreach to the community, the Forum voted to drop the word "Teachers" in its official name, and created the current non-profit organization: The Asheville Area Piano Forum. Thus, membership formally became available to anyone sharing a fascination for the piano and supportive of the organization's charitable and educational purposes.

The number of activities sponsored by the AAPF grew along with the membership. Besides hosting five general meetings, three student recitals and the Fall Benefit concert, annually, the Forum now also sponsors teacher roundtables, master classes, a Practice for Pets contest (which motivates students' practice for the benefit of the Asheville Humane Society, ) the Asheville Piano Competition, and presents a Spring Benefit Piano Concert in a chamber setting.

Two years ago (2007) the Forum faced a challenge which threatened the future of the Annual Fall Benefit Concert. Funding for the high profile event was lost due to the move away from Asheville of the Collins Foundation. At first seen as a devastating blow, the development turned out to be a good opportunity for local proponents of the piano. Last year's concert was substantially funded by a grant from the family of Forum member Virginia Ramig, as her fifty year career teaching piano was celebrated, upon her retirement. This year's 2008, 8th Fall Benefit Concert will be sponsored by Mr. Stanley Moon, who is presenting the concert as a memorial to his wife, Gretel, a highly skilled and gifted amateur pianist during her lifetime.

The closing of the Dunham's Music store in 2006 caused some panic for Fall Benefit performers who had planned two-piano selections for that year's fall concert. Case Brothers of Spartanburg quickly answered a call for help and provided a nine foot Steinway grand piano. Last year, and again this fall, Piano Distributors in Asheville will donate the use and transport of a Yamaha grand piano. Happily, the eight-hand spectaculars will continue.

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