By Lara Sokoloff
He played at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Saturday and at the event commemorating former President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday Sunday. On Monday, five-time Grammy nominated pianist Michael Feinstein performed for students and faculty at an upper school assembly.
Feinstein, who President Thomas C. Hudnut introduced as a “pioneer in his field” dedicated to keeping alive the music that colored 20th century America, played “I Love a Piano,” “Rhode Island’s Famous For You,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Love is Here to Stay,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and, after a standing ovation, “Anything Goes” as an encore.
Following the assembly, Feinstein met with members of the History and Performing Arts department to discuss ways of combining the two naturally related topics.
Feinstein also worked with the Chamber Singers and Jazz Singers during classes later in the day.
A music historian, Feinstein spearheads The Great American Songbook project, which is dedicated to integrating the songs of the Great American Songbook into high school history curriculums across the country. Through this project, Feinstein hopes to increase student awareness, enjoyment, and interest of the music that shapes our country’s history, Assistant to the President Ann-Marie Whitman said. Music used to be a way of bringing people together, in times of stress and in times of joy, Feinstein said. Now, however, it is seen as far more solitary.
Feinstein said his interest in music history began in early childhood, when he started to prefer older, classical music to popular, current music.
“My friends would laugh at me, but the richness in construction fascinated me,” Feinstein said.
Part of that fascination was due to the lyrical intricacies that came from censorships laws of the early 20th century that challenged artists to relay their message subtly, he said. Feinstein played “Rhode Island’s Famous for You” as an example of a love song that, through its lyrics about various states’ economies, circumvents the censorship laws.
“You have no idea that it’s going to be a love song,” he said. “It just gets wackier and wackier.”
Before playing “Alexander’s Rag Time Band,” Feinstein explained how Rag Time music, thought to be both subversive and dangerous, truly changed the world during the first part of the 20th century. It became an international anthem, he said, whose message seemed to resonate deeply around the world.