Who Is the Esther Mesh Room Named For?
A popular event of the Central Vermont Chamber Music Festival, which kicks off on Saturday, August 18, is a Sunday breakfast followed by baroque music. The breakfast, which is catered this year by Black Krim Tavern, takes place in the upper gallery of Chandler Center for the Arts, known as the Esther Mesh Room, and the baroque music is across the street in Bethany Church.
I am willing to bet that most people who attend this year's Breakfast with Bach program will have no idea who Esther Mesh was. I know, because my mother revered her.
Miss Mesh was one of those music teachers who have been inspiring Randolph children for generations. She was hired by the Randolph School District in the mid-1930s, when my mother was a student at the Randolph Center elementary school. The year after Miss Mesh stepped off the train at Depot Square with her suitcase, Mom began going to high school in Randolph Village, and that was where she first encountered Miss Mesh.
Music teacher Esther Mesh eventually moved to Massachusetts but kept her Randolph ties.
When Mom was 89 years old, she wrote about Esther Mesh in an essay called "Musical Memories." If I were to publish the entire essay it would be the longest blog post ever written—my mother's passion for music knew no bounds—so what follows is an excerpt:
When I was growing up, the schools were not expected to do everything for children. If parents felt that their children were not getting something important in school, it was generally accepted that it was the responsibility of the parents to fill in the gaps. In our family that meant that everyone would learn to do something musical.
During my six years in elementary school, and for the first couple of years of high school, I had a succession of piano teachers. None of them did much to inspire me. Their instruction did serve to keep me practicing until two things happened that were to give me the spark that I needed.
The first thing was Josephine Hovey Perry’s summer music school. Mrs. Perry had developed her own method of teaching piano to children and had published her materials, some of which my teachers had used. So Mom decided to send Ruth and me to summer school in Barre. I believe that this was while I was still in elementary school, so it would have been during the Great Depression, and would have involved daily transportation to Barre, as well as the cost of the schooling. It must have meant careful planning and perhaps some sacrifice on the part of my parents. Ruth and I went to the Perry School of Music at least two summers, possibly more, because it was there that I met a piano teacher who was several notches above anyone I had met to that point. I hogged the piano at home, putting in many hours of practice every day. Mom had to intervene in order that Ruth would get to practice. After the second summer of music school my parents arranged for me to continue my lessons with the teacher from the Perry School and my playing improved tremendously.
The second happening was the advent of a new music teacher, Miss Esther Mesh. She had come to the Randolph area as a beginning teacher and stayed for twenty-five years before moving on to work for the State of Vermont. I loved what she brought to us. Her second year here I went to high school. I played in the orchestra she formed, I sang in the chorus, and I took the two new courses in Music Appreciation which she developed. In her Music Appreciation class we listened to records, learning about the different kinds of musical works, about the composers, and about the performers. Miss Mesh even managed to include a little music theory. From that time on music played a bigger part in my life. An important aspect of my association with that gifted teacher was what I gained from participation in the chorus.
On a warm spring evening I am seated on the bleachers in a crowded auditorium. Although it is a large space there are so many bodies in it that it is becoming a little too warm. Several hundred boys and girls from the high schools in Vermont face the audience. Although the audience is conversing softly, the members of the chorus are absolutely silent. The conductor enters the auditorium and everyone in the audience rises and applauds. The members of the chorus applaud, but do not rise. There is a pause, and at the conductor’s signal the members of the chorus stand without making a sound. We wait for the opening notes from the orchestra. I am tempted to hold my breath, but experience has taught me that it is better to take a few deep breaths, so I do that. This is not my first time at the annual Music Festival in Burlington, the highlight of my school year. We have spent a large part of the year learning the music that the state chorus will perform, as well as music which our high school chorus will perform on another evening under the direction of Miss Mesh. The magic begins. Beautiful sound begins to wash over and around me. A few tears escape as I open my mouth and begin to sing. Every eye is on the director. Every motion means something. The pauses must be in perfect accord, the increases in volume must be absolutely right, enough but not too much. The conductor’s baton provides us with the cues we need. There’s nothing quite like it. During my high school years I went to the Festival three times and was so impressed with it that when I delivered the salutatory address at my high school graduation I told about the Festival chorus in the essay part of the address.*
My mother's first classroom as a brand-new teacher was a one-room schoolhouse. She was barely 20 years old, just out of college. Imagine: She was the only teacher! The oldest boys were bigger than she was! It was very lonely. Miss Mesh used to come once a week to give a music lesson, and my mother was always overjoyed to see her.
I met Miss Mesh once, when the upper gallery at Chandler was dedicated. She was something like 100 years old. Honestly. And she was absolutely delightful. She sat in a wing chair, facing a roomful of admirers, and listened attentively while people made speeches and said nice things about her. Then she spoke, and though I don't remember what she said, I remember being utterly charmed and riveted by this woman who, though ancient and frail, had a wonderful sense of humor, great dignity, and a sparkle in her eye.
I wish I could tell you more, but that's pretty much all I know about Esther Mesh. If you have something to add, please do. I think it says something good about us as a community that we value music so highly—and that we value women like Miss Mesh who have graced us with their talents.
* Excerpted from "Musical Memories," by Idora Tucker, written in 2010 in a memoir-writing group at the Greater Randolph Senior Center.
Photos: Top, my aunt's piano as it was being moved from her home in Brookfield to the Morgan Orchards Senior Living residence in Randolph Center (the guys from Northern Piano Movers did a really good job). The photograph of Esther Mesh was provided by Braintree resident Linda Morse.
For further reading:
About the teachers in our lives: How to Be Maude Stokes; An Unauthorized Biography of Guitar Picker Roger Ennis
About the Central Vermont Chamber Music Festival: Breakfast With Bach, a Kid's Concert, Open Rehearsals, and More
About Chandler Center for the Arts: The 1970s Rebirth of Colonel Chandler's Music Hall (Part I)
About why music is good for your health: Want to Age Better? Join a Choir