What do musicians do who aren’t interested in concertizing? They play for each other! That’s what a great many highly regarded area pianists have been doing for the last thirty-five years in the members-only, Friends of Four Hands (FOFH) piano organization.
Joyce Adelson, the founder, and her identical twin, Joanne, were the up-and-coming piano duo, mentored by well-known Detroit area piano teacher, Mrs. Rebecca Frohman. Their studies continued at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. They made their debut in Carnegie Hall in 1960 and in 1964, won top prize in a Munich duo piano competition. After performing with major orchestras including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the sister team was on its way to fame. However, Joanne developed multiple sclerosis and their duo piano collaboration came to an abrupt end. Instead of concertizing solo, Joyce chose to join the faculty at Oakland University and teach piano ensemble music.
Although her professional career as a duo pianist was severely curtailed, Joyce Adelson’s love of piano ensemble motivated her to gather seven women pianists in her home. While deliberating over fresh coffee cake in her kitchen, they discussed how to form a Detroit area organization devoted to pairing accomplished pianists in duet and duo piano performance. (Duet piano is two players performing on one piano, while duo piano involves two pianists playing separately on two pianos. As an outgrowth of this, Friends of Four Hands today also has two eight-hand teams; two people playing on one piano with two people playing on a second piano.)
The talented musicians who attended Joyce’s inaugural meeting were Norma Chudnow, Ann Kretzmer, Ruth Weingarten, Judy Teller, Franziska Schoenfeld, Phyllis Kusnetz, and Rochelle Peterson. The pianists who met thirty-five years ago in Joyce Adelson’s home have introduced many individual piano soloists to both the duet and two piano four-hand formats. Other early members of FOFH include venerable Detroit area piano teachers Sonia Geoffrey, Carole Lasser, Lenore Simon and Judy Moslak.
Duo piano is a genre that began in the seventeenth century and continued through the early twentieth century. At that time, most music was played in homes or in smaller salon venues due to the costs associated with concert halls and paying orchestra musicians. Composers would typically write their musical works for two pianos, often one piano for the melody and the other for orchestration. If the musical score proved popular, the composer would rewrite the music to include the orchestra. Many of the great composers of the classical era also wrote music intended solely for two pianos with both parts being of equal balance and difficulty. It was the great piano team, Ferrante and Teicher, who popularized the duo format for the masses in the 1960s playing contemporary music of that era.
Although Joyce Adelson died in 1996 at the age of 56, Friends of Four Hands continues to thrive as her legacy. Currently, the fifty-eight FOFH members meet every fourth Tuesday of each month during the fall, winter, and spring seasons to hear each other perform beautiful music. FOFH is fortunate to have as members, Yuki and Tomoko Mack, known professionally as The Mack Sisters. They also coach and mentor many of the group’s members.
While most of the music is classical, a portion of it is of the more recent vintage, often from movies, Broadway or the popular charts. Each concert occurs in members’ homes where two grand pianos are the norm, followed by post-concert refreshments and dessert. The spirit and camaraderie among these musicians is palpable at these after concert socials, as only they understand the enormous amount of dedication, hard work, and musicality that is required to play such music.
Members are allowed to invite guests to these in-home recitals, and those fortunate to be invited experience a musical treat. They not only get to hear great music played by members, but on occasion, the group invites distinguished professional musicians to perform. A few of the famous and internationally recognized piano duos who have performed at the meetings are the Contiguglia Brothers (twins); Cheng and Chow; Aebersold and Neiweem; Elizabeth and Eugene Pridonoff and Flavio Varani.
For the majority of the thirty-five years of Friends of Four Hand’s existence, it was Franziska Schoenfeld, a retired Birmingham dentist, who served as its president. “I can’t remember when I was first considered president of the group,” says Dr. Schoenfeld. “I was never elected. What happened is I began to realize the group needed more organization and I didn’t want to let Joyce and the other members down. I began asking people to help with various chores, and soon, members looked on me as president.” For the past three years, Paul Reid, a retired Battle Creek piano teacher, has served the organization well as president.
In June 2016, Jill Stone will be taking over as the organization’s new president. She was a piano major at the University of Michigan in the 1970’s. New members, young and old who are interested in performing at least once per year are welcome. FOFH is a VERY supportive group and encourages all skill levels. Come join us to make beautiful music.