About Mary K. Hail Music Mansion (Originally featured in Rhode Island Home, Living & Design, Volume 6, Issue 8. Here, with author's permission)
by Regina Andrews
Poised atop one of the loftiest hills on the East Side of Providence, on a corner lot at Congdon and Meeting Streets, the Mary K. Hail Music Mansion stands as a warm and inviting home to music lovers throughout Rhode Island − and beyond.
Formerly a private residence, this beautiful, stately brick mansion is approachable from both sides via a cobblestone walkway traversing its interior boundaries and lovely landscaped grounds. As I walked along this path recently, I could hear the strains of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto filtering from the elongated French windows. The aromas of coffee, tea and warm pastries rivaled the aural delights in the sensory feast.
For many decades, this mansion was the home of Mary Kimball Hail, a prominent patroness of music in Rhode Island, according to her obituary in the June 25, 1948, edition of The Providence Journal. Born in 1870 in Atlanta, Georgia, she attended Lasell Academy in Auburndale, Massachusetts and studied voice in Berlin and London. Upon her death in 1948, she left her home to the community for free public concerts.
Designed by architect Albert Harkness, the Music Mansion echoes an English manor house of the 17th or 18th century in tone and style. And even though the mansion is in the heart of Providence's College Hill, one feels insulated from the contemporary world by the stone-walled and foliated crescent walkway around the house. Entering the Mansion poses an immediate dilemma: Where to turn first? The spiral staircase? The front hall with its airy, bright interior? Or the concert space capable of holding 100 people, with its tapestry, chandelier and two grand pianos?
Many have faced this same quandary, as the Music Mansion is a vibrant center of music lessons, student recitals, and musicales. Many music associations, including the Chopin and Chaminade Clubs, hold their meetings at the Music Mansion on a regular basis throughout the year.
Yet it wasn't so long ago that the future of the Music Mansion was in jeopardy. After it fell into disrepair, the bank trustees decided to put the property up for sale in 1996. Enter Mr. Sam Chester, a violinist who performed with the Rhode Island Philharmonic for 23 years. Along with Tony DelVecchio, Mimi DeCesaris, and others, Chester formed the nonprofit organization Friends of the Music Mansion, which was instrumental in securing its future. Money was raised, grants were awarded, the Friends of the Music Mansion established a permanent endowment – all for the love of music and for the joy of sharing the experience of a musicale. And Mr. Chester, now over 95 years old, still knows that the beat must go on!
Today, the Music Mansion thrives as a place for performers to try out new music, refresh old music, and, most of all, to bring joy to people of all ages and from all walks of life. Sunday afternoons are filled with the sound of music, with thoughtfully designed programs drawing together an eclectic crowd of music aficionados for some rapture – and refreshments.
"The Music Mansion has been – for more than 50 years – a place of great solace, and my musical home away from home, " says Haig Yaghoobian, a member of the Friends of the Music Mansion and the Chopin and Chaminade Clubs, as well as a pianist in his own right. "As did many students of local music teachers, I started playing there shortly after I began piano lessons, at age seven. As an inner-city kid, it was literally a step into a different world."
Generations of future musicians still get their start at the Music Mansion. During the school year, music lessons are offered free of charge to children, and many of the associations that utilize the Music Mansion offer scholarship programs to their young students, fostering an ideal of achievement through music that will have a lasting impact on their lives and on the music world as a whole.
Isn't it interesting that the Music Mansion is situated on a corner, so like the crossroads that many young musicians face as they try to reconcile the life of an artist with the demands of a society geared more toward practical undertakings?
The Music Mansion has passed the test of time, and will be a source for music on College Hill for generations to come. No doubt Mary K. Hail would be proud of all that the Music Mansion has accomplished in the past, and all that it stands for today.