History of the Chopin Club

In 1879, two of the young female piano students of Professor Eban A. Kelly were inspired to suggest to him that they form a music club, and thus began the Chopin Club, one of the two oldest such clubs in America*. There were twelve charter members, initially all pianists; they met every two weeks from October to July, holding in the spring an annual concert to which guests were invited. The first such concert took place on April 6th, 1880: the program consisted of several 4-hand pieces, a 2-piano rendition of Chopin, and Military Marches by Chopin and Schubert played by 8 hands; Mrs. Buffington, a guest, sang "O Loving Heart" and "Let Me Dream Again".

In the second year a violinist was invited to join, and later a vocalist. And in 1892, Robert Bonner, Providence's other most prominent musician and piano teacher, offered to give a course in Harmony and Form; he gave this class on alternate Saturday evenings from '92-'97, in which year he was presented by the club with sleeve buttons as a birthday gift in appreciation.

Originally, the number of members was limited to fifteen, but by 1906, the group had grown, and it was decided to meet only once a month. In 1912, "Gentleman's Night" (later changed to "Guest Night") took place in the winter; associate members were invited to join, Musical Teas were added. And the yearly Annual Recital had grown sizably. According to Miss Emma Welch, one of the founding members, "The bevy of young ladies in dainty costumes was always an attractive sight", but since every member performed, it was suggested they should provide ambulances to carry home the exhausted listeners.

Meetings were held in hired rooms,or sometimes "honorary members" with large houses acted as host. In 1926, the annual concert, now called "President's Day", took place in the ballroom of the Biltmore hotel, with several hundred present. In 1927, men were invited to become members. A Junior club was formed, then a Juvenile; some of our present long-time members remember performing Haydn's Toy Symphony at the Narragansett Hotel, followed by a "splendid luncheon."

In 1905, some sort of rupture took place, and a splinter group formed itself into the Chaminade Club, with Mary K. Hail as its first president. Later, in 1928, while she was president of the R.I. Federation of Music Clubs, she built for herself what is now known as the Music Mansion; its salient feature was a large room with wonderful acoustics, specifically designed for concerts. There was a small balcony upstairs, presumably put in so that she could come and go from her bedroom while groups were meeting or rehearsing. Many club members remember her during performances sitting in an armchair just under where her portrait now hangs; the children, dressed in their finest, were taught to curtsy and bow to her after they played. When she died in 1948, she left the Mansion in trust for the use of all the music clubs.

From these beginnings, the Chopin Club has grown and
flourished; now more than one hundred active members, most of whom are professional musicians, give generously of their time and talents at six Musicales held on Sunday afternoons in the Music Mansion. In April, the current president hires guest artists for a special concert; among those so chosen have been Beverly Sills and Arthur Fiedler.

The two junior clubs are likewise very active, with members coming from all over Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. Both have monthly meetings from October to May at which the members perform for each other, as well as formal recitals twice a year. Music awards are given in the younger group, and substantial scholarships granted to selected high-school seniors who plan to major in music. Many of today's outstanding professional musicians have said that the experience of performing regularly in the Music Mansion as a young Chopin Club member added immeasurably to their development.

*The Rossini Club of Portland, Maine, was incorporated in 1871.

This brief history is based chiefly on material found in the archives of the library of the RI Historical Society. - Edith Hemenway

...several 4-hand pieces...
...a gift of sleeve buttons...
...a bevy of young ladies in dainty costumes... 1
...for exhausted listeners...2
...a splendid luncheon...3
the balcony in the recital  hall
friends of Mary K. Hail perform
The Music Mansion Today

Image credits
1 www.vintageteasets.co.uk
3 Reed Business Information, www.chrishodgephotos.co.uk
NP Farbman and Life Magazine