Just Like New York: Classic Concerts in a Country Church

by Cecily Jones, SL
Interchange Online

Pianist Denine LeBlanc performing in the Motherhouse church.

After a recent concert an audience member was overheard exclaiming, “This is like being at Carnegie Hall!” She was commenting on the performance at one of the seven concerts offered between June 8 and July 7, not in New York, but in rural Kentucky. During those weeks the Loretto Motherhouse church was the scene of string quartet, violin – piano, organ, cello – violin – piano, solo piano concerts, all played by professional performers.

The music series, now numbering over 260 concerts, began in March 1995 when Alice Eugene Tighe gave the Motherhouse church a Steinway piano that had been a gift to her from a former student. Mary Swain, believing that this splendid instrument should be shared, inquired whether anyone at the University of Louisville School of Music might wish to come to Loretto to play the piano. Professor Naomi Oliphant replied affirmatively, so she and Peter McHugh, both of whom would subsequently perform here numerous times, gave the church’s initial concert, violin – piano, on April 24, 1995.

Since then, musicians from that school as well as Campbellsville University, Indiana University, and several other professional backgrounds have requested the opportunity to perform at the motherhouse. Mary does not recruit the players, but welcomes those who contact her, scheduling their appearances and making all the necessary arrangements.

“They are attracted by the church’s excellent acoustics,” Mary says, “and, I think, by the simple but rather eloquent ambiance as well as by the appreciative audiences. In addition to the listeners who attend in person, there’s a wider audience through closed circuit TV in the infirmary.” Before each concert Mary notifies an e-mail roster of friends and neighbors who are grateful for the chance to hear the classic programs. The musicians are not paid, and, of course, there is no admission charge. But the warm and welcoming spirit of those in the church is evident among those who linger to congratulate and chat with the musicians after each event.

This past summer’s offerings included a cello concert by Anne Richardson, a Louisville native who at the age of 16 is in the pre-college program at New York’s renowned Juilliard School of Music. On the calendar as well was a program by the internationally known Canadian pianist, Sara Davis Buechner.

Although frail in health, pianist and professor Alice Eugene Tighe is sometimes wheeled over from the infirmary to enjoy a concert. She listens carefully, smiles appreciatively, and applauds. Just a few feet away from her place in the front row center stands the Steinway, her gift that launched the beloved concert series more than 18 years ago.

All concerts are free and open to the public. Please join us. See our calendar for a listing of Motherhouse Concerts.

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