Conquer Cancer Concert Blog

As I look back (now safely home in Connecticut) on two amazing weeks of travel, music, family, and friends, I am filled with gratitude for all the help we received along the way.

Union Station, Kansas City, MO

Union Station, Kansas City, MO

First and foremost, Concerts to Cure Kidney Cancer — 2015 Tour would not have been possible without Brenda Casey. Not only did she suggest we underwrite and split the cost of the trip, but she also rounded up her sorority sisters from the University of Kansas and her childhood friends from Emporia, KS, who graciously hosted us and filled audience chairs. Brenda also bought a new GPS for the 2,000+ mile trip, brought her laptop computer from which I blogged, and provided housing for six days in her condo in Denver. Brenda not only was the navigator for the trip, but she also did all the worrying for me!

And thank you Emma Todd for lending me the beret you bought in Paris! I couldn’t have played the Debussy piece throughout our tour without it.

Philadelphia, PA, June 23
Bryan and Marisa Lewis put us up in their guest room in Philadelphia for two nights. Bryan arranged for us to play at the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, dealt with insurance issues, arranged all of the publicity, saw to the marketing materials, set up all of the chairs in circles around us, handed out programs, and provided the refreshments at the concert on June 23 with the help of his children, Jackson and Isabel.

Raleigh, NC, June 26
Ken Jens of Chapel Hill contacted Ruggero Piano Store for our Raleigh concert. Richard Ruggero was VERY amenable to our playing our two piano concert in his Bosendorfer Concert Hall, especially because it was a benefit for kidney cancer research.  He also arranged to have the concert recorded.

Ken Jens’s wife Sandy Milroy was a childhood playmate of Brenda’s in Emporia, KS.  She and Ken provided a lovely room and bath for Brenda, and hosted a sit-down dinner on June 25 for ten including the following guests:

Lynn and Josie Elwell of Durham, who provided the refreshments at our concert in Raleigh. And Phyllis and Roger Lotchin, who put me up in their guest room and bath for two nights in Chapel Hill. Phyllis sent out at least fifty letters to her friends in the area, publicizing our event.

Bryan Lewis and his family drove from Philadelphia to Raleigh for the concert. This time Bryan brought his parents, his uncle and aunt, and his niece. In addition to manning the check-in table and seeing to the programs, he once more articulated the special work done by Action to Cure Kidney Cancer and the need for continued research funding for this terrible disease.

Overland Park, KS, June 29
Carole Coulter, a sorority sister of Brenda’s who lives in Overland Park, KS, made the arrangements with Harry Reed for us to play at the Schmitt Music Store nearby as well as with Charlie Frank at Union Station in Kansas City, MO. She and her husband Wayne provided a lovely room and bath for Brenda in their home, while I stayed with Bee Tuttle in Leawood. The following day Bee and I drove to Carole’s for late morning coffee with Brenda’s sorority sisters who had been at a reunion the previous weekend. Mary Boyer from Wichita, who has generously donated by mail from Kansas to our concerts in Guilford every year, made the drive to Kansas City twice in four days to hear us play; Nancy Kinser from Fort Worth, Texas and Nancy Shepard from Kirkwood, MO also stayed over to hear the concert; and Julie Newlin not only stayed around after the reunion, but who took the stage and sang an “encore” from the Theta House song book, Everybody Loves a Lover. Marietta Schreiber was there from Annapolis and Judy Duncan Stanton, Linda Weiss, and Tutie Smith, all from KC, attended the reunion and came to the concert. After the coffee, we all went to lunch!

Brenda’s sister Paula and her husband Bob Peterson drove from Topeka to attend the concert at Schmitt Music Store. And Kay Mehrer, an old friend of Brenda’s from Emporia was there. My dear friend Mary Lou Anderson who lives in Jamestown, KS, spent the weekend with her son Dave and his wife Carol, who live in Overland Park. The three of them attended the Monday evening concert, and we had a wonderful dinner afterwards catching up on “old times.”

Union Station, Kansas City, MO, June 30
Carole Coulter had enlarged our 4-color publicity card in black and white to two different poster sizes and affixed them to foam board. Charlie Frank saw to it that the largest poster sat on a stand at Union Station as you entered the hall. He also provided a microphone with a large speaker. Before the concert, Brenda was very happy to see Judy MacClelland from Carmel, CA. Judy was also in town for the reunion and stayed over. She brought her sister who lives in Independence, KS. The painted piano that I played is a work of art by Charlie Podrebarac, whose mother Mary Jean sat in front and posed for a photo with the piano.  Carole’s neighbors Helen Wooster and Sue Irwin were in the audience, along with her friend from church, Marilyn Finan, and other Kansas City friends, Nancy and Howard Ziggenhorn.

Boulder, CO, July 5
Paul Jarvis, the owner of the Boulder Piano Store not only strategically placed both of the posters Carole had made in the store windows, but he also gave us the key to the store so that we could get in on Sunday to get used to the pianos. (The biggest challenge on the trip was dealing with a different piano every time we played.) Many thanks to Marty Williams from Denver (originally Emporia) and her friend Carol who brought the tablecloth, decorations, and refreshments. It was a touching moment when Fran and Dick Gabrielson arrived as Fran and Marty hadn’t seen each other since leaving Emporia in the mid 1950s. Erin and Peter Green, Brenda’s daughter and son-in-law and their children Samantha and Jeremy also brought refreshments as well as two vases of flowers that we set near the pianos. Samantha greeted everyone and handed out the programs. Peter’s parents Irv and Andy Green were there, as well as Sue Iten, the property manager for Brenda’s Denver condo. Sue brought her friend from New Zealand with her.

Thank you everyone for your generosity and your help in making Concerts to Conquer Kidney Cancer a success!

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Two Pianos, Union Station, Kansas City, MO

Grand Finale

by Pat Todd on July 5, 2015

We performed the final “Concert to Conquer Kidney Cancer” of our 2015 tour this afternoon in Boulder, CO, at the Boulder Piano Gallery.

Friends and family comprised most of the audience. Marty Williams and Brenda’s daughter Erin Green arrived with refreshments. They set a beautiful table with an Italian theme, so we put all of our red white and blue carnations and daisies in vases near us on the stage. We took advantage of the 4th of July weekend from the get go with our flags and hats for the Yankee Doodle medley in the styles of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy.

Marty was Brenda’s next door neighbor growing up in Emporia, KS.

Franny Ashby Gabrielson was there with her husband, Dick, a former pilot who was reminded of how challenging it was to fly in and out of Boston. They live in Lyons CO, about 20 miles from Boulder. Brenda and Marty last saw Franny in 1957, but of course they all recognized each other immediately. Franny told us that she has read ALL of our blog posts! Franny played the violin in the same youth symphony as Brenda when they were students at the elementary school on the campus of the teachers college in Emporia (now Emporia State University). Franny was also a serious piano student. She and Brenda each gave a solo piano recital in the Music Hall auditorium in high school.

The pianos were positioned side by side on the stage instead of nesting. We really liked that. In addition, the pianos were both fantastic instruments — Brenda played the Schimmel and I played a Shigeru Kawai. In Raleigh, Brenda played an equally brilliant Schimmel. Neither of us had ever heard of the Shigeru Kawai, but it was the “easiest” piano I’ve ever played — so totally responsive.

Our audience was appreciative and generous, and very interested in Action to Cure Kidney Cancer (ACKC).

Join Us in Boulder

by Pat Todd on July 4, 2015

The final concert of our 2015 tour is tomorrow, July 5, 3 pm, at the Boulder Piano Gallery, 3111 Walnut Street (pictured here with Brenda’s granddaughter Samantha). Our pianos are going to be side by side this time!

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side by side pianos 610px

Wichita to Denver

by Pat Todd on July 1, 2015

After an extraordinarily interesting lunch with Cynthia (including Brenda getting an autographed copy of her book, Incidental Finding, see prior post), we drove northwest on I-135 to Interstate 70 and west across Kansas to Denver.

It wasn’t as flat as I remembered it from 1963 driving from Oklahoma to Jamestown, Kansas. The Flint Hills on I-135 are low lying and verdant. I saw one oil well from Kansas City to Emporia; later, especially along route 70, there were a few scattered oil wells pumping. I saw only ONE farm house and barn along the highway all day. Occasionally a herd of black cows were huddled. The land on both sides for the 450 miles we traveled today was fenced with a low wire fence. There were only two windmill farms, granted there were a lot of windmills on each farm. And the road goes on and on and on to the horizon. The speed limit is 75; everyone, including the trucks, go 80. I traveled many sections of the road when there were no other cars around at 90 to 100 mph, without realizing it. It was 92 degrees when we left Emporia at 9:30 this morning. It was 102 degrees along route 70 by 5:30 this afternoon. Around 7:00 this evening, the sky was black straight ahead in the west, and the temperature dropped to 63 degrees. It was a challenge driving though the wind and the rain when we hit that storm. AND it was a challenge finding a place to have dinner. Every six to nine miles there was an exit for a “town.”  The towns were around huge grain elevators, or the grain elevators defined the towns. A knife and fork on the highway road sign beckoned, but that time, the only restaurant was closed, out of business. We finally found the I-70 Diner in Flagler, CO (population 561), just over the state line.

I wasn’t aware of a change in altitude. The landscape barely changed as we passed into Colorado. Unfortunately it was dark when we reached Denver, so I’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning to see the mountains.

We left a 90 degree Emporia this morning and drove to Wichita — less than two hours southwest — to visit Cynthia Chauhan, who is a Mayo clinic survivor of breast and kidney cancer. She feels she is alive because of Mayo.

Cynthia is the author of Incidental Finding, a compilation of personal stories told by kidney cancer patients. Cynthia started a kidney cancer support group in Wichita, at Victory in the Valley. Victory in the Valley is a nonprofit cancer support agency. They do not accept funding from the government or organizations that will impede their mission. They support cancer patients in every way possible — all cancers. Cynthia and her husband have three rescue cats (one that is 20 years old from Japan), three rescue dogs, and almost an acre of flower gardens.

I offered her some milkweed seeds, and she knew all about the Monarch butterfly’s dependence on milkweed (their caterpillars only eat milkweed, which is disappearing). She showed me three sections of her yard that she would like to dedicate to milkweed, so I gave her the entire supply that I had in my purse, the end of the 2,000 I’ve been spreading around. We’ll compare notes in a couple of months to see how it goes in CT versus KS with the seeds.

I have a lot of photos to share from today in Wichita. I want to tell you more about Victory in the Valley. We’ve been invited to play there NEXT YEAR!

And tomorrow morning I’ll tell you all about our drive from Wichita to Denver (another very, very long drive).

Emporia, KS: Brenda’s Home Town

by Pat Todd on June 30, 2015

In Emporia is Emporia State University, formerly Kansas State Teachers College. We visited Beach Music Hall, the music building (see below) on campus adjacent to Brenda’s elementary school, Kansas State Teachers College Laboratory School. They had music class every day! (See Brenda’s post about her music education.)


The names of the people honored within the hall include the Valeta Jeffrey Ives Room. Valeta was a ground breaking music teacher. She did everything like taking her students caroling around the campus. Brenda had her for six years, 1st through 6th grade.

Hendricks Computer Lab was named for Dr. Charles Hendricks who was a friend of Brenda’s family, and his wife taught music also. They were both on the college faculty. He was a band leader and composer, very innovative. Those were the rooms.

One of the practice studios was made possible by Paul and Janice DeBauge, who had provided the funds for the room. Paul, who played the piano won all the Federated Music Teachers contests, was a year ahead of Brenda. (The judges favored him to Brenda’s annoyance.)

There were bricks along the back wall as you enter (not on the floor but in the wall) with names Brenda knew: Leopold Liegl was on the faculty of the college and later became Brenda’s flute teacher. Statewide, he was big in promoting student participation. The Emporia Neosho Valley Youth Symphony (ENVY) was his creation. It was made up of students from around the area who auditioned to get in — this was all grade school! In high school, if he thought you were good enough, he arranged for special performances. Three students in Brenda’s senior class were selected to play piano, violin and flute concertos with the college orchestra. Brenda played flute. She also gave an entire flute recital that year, instead of a piano recital, which upset her piano teacher. But it was so exciting to play with the college orchestra. Dr. Liegl lived very close to Brenda’s grandmother. He and Dr. Hendricks, who was a trumpet player, were both big draws at the college. They were both family friends, and it was overwhelming to see their names.

Lynn and Ann Underwood Kindred was another brick. Ann was two years ahead of Brenda in school. She lived across the street from Brenda’s grandmother and did everything better and right. She married the high school basketball star, Lynn. They gave a brick, but Brenda doesn’t know what their connection to music was. It showed Brenda how the school is connected to the community. There are hundreds of bricks in the wall. Someone evidently has come to Emporia who knows how to make things happen.

Brenda looked forward to going to school everyday. It was a five minute car ride from home and ten minutes from her dad’s store, Bruckner’s Store for Men, which was in the middle of town for forty years. Bill Bruckner was known to be the best merchandiser in Kansas. He went out of business before credit cards. The worst day would be the day he got a “bad check” from an out-of-towner. Half a block away was Poole’s Dry Goods, owned by Brenda’s grandfather. Both her Aunt Martha and Aunt Tad worked there. Martha went to New York City as the buyer. Aunt Tad was in sportswear. They both played the piano “by ear.” They never read music, but always played. Aunt Tad played for the silent movies. Aunt Martha played for the US troops during WWII in Hawaii. Martha returned to Emporia when Brenda’s grandmother died, and worked at Poole’s. Everyone who shopped at Poole’s relied on her buying ability. Martha and Tad played every Sunday after dinner and always encouraged Brenda to sit with them. Bill Bruckner was active in town with Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce, and on the Board of the National Organization of Clothiers.

In retrospect, I’m amazed at the musical education I received at a very young age — a testament to the vision and dedication of the professional educators of the time, especially those at Kansas State Teachers College and the Lab School (my elementary school located on campus).

From my early kindergarten days I can remember how quiet we were told to be when we played outside in the schoolyard right behind the Music Hall — the big, big building that continuously reverberated with music — mostly coming from practice rooms on the third floor: trumpets, pianos, violins, sopranos, tenors, baritones… Jumbled cacophonous musical sounds were always streaming out the open windows while we played in the sandbox or on the swings, or walked on little stilts. In later years, we were allowed to roller skate on campus — but only on the other side of the school. Away from the Music Hall.

The kindergarten music teacher’s name was Miss Strauss. (How fitting, I now realize.) There was a piano in the classroom, and when Miss Strauss began to play, that signaled the beginning of class. At nap time, we each took our little rugs from our lockers to lie down and Miss Strauss played the Brahms Lullaby as we drifted off to sleep. Rousing march music meant it was time to get up.

The Lab School faculty was entirely made up of women. All graduates of Columbia Teachers College in NYC. All with scary sounding names. The first three grades were known to be pretty easy and fun. Teachers came and went. But when you got to the 4th grade, all that changed. Miss Vollrath was waiting. And she was a no-nonsense teacher. In the 5th grade, Miss Franz took over. Even scarier. Miss Otterstrom in the 6th grade was pretty nice, but that year the principal suddenly made her VERY scary presence felt throughout the school. Ina M. Borman wore her hair in a tight bun, and ruled imperiously from her office desk next to the main door of the school. She was always there. Except when she got up to walk down the hall. VERY tense, those moments. If she happened to glance into your classroom, even the teacher stopped talking. I never saw her smile. But then, principals didn’t smile in those days. They kept order.

Miss Jeffrey — later Mrs. Ives — was the real joy. The school music teacher everyone loved. We had music class every day. She started all the songs we sang from our songbooks with a pitch pipe. We had musical spelldowns, and musical blackboard competitions. Who could draw the best whole note on the staff: Brenda or Stuart? It was usually Stuart. But that was OK, because one day Miss Jeffrey discovered I had perfect pitch. She would have me stand and look away from the piano while she played a note. When I told her what it was, she would look meaningfully at the student teachers seated around the room observing. It never seemed like a big deal to me till then. I assumed everyone had perfect pitch.

We learned to read music and heard stories of the operas and always listened to a record at the end of class. My favorite was “Waltz of the Flowers” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. We all got to dance around the room and be flowers. Then the Kansas City Philharmonic came to play in Emporia. And it was on the program. I was astounded by the harp arpeggio at the start of the piece. Hearing it in person was so much different from the classroom record. It was so very exciting to see a real harp played and the other members of the orchestra playing the instruments we had learned all about beforehand. Major moment in my musical life. Probably 2nd or 3rd grade. In the 5th grade, Miss Jeffrey (now Mrs. Ives) helped us each choose a musical instrument to learn to play. I remember the day she opened a case and showed me a flute. A solemn moment. It looked intimidating. I think I asked if that was really a flute. (I thought a flute was just a silver column you blew into.) And she said, “Don’t embarrass me!” So I took it home, worked hard, and finally managed to make a sound after the third week of lessons with Mr. Weigand, the school band and orchestra director. I went on to play in the 5th grade band, the 6th grade orchestra, and in a regional youth symphony, Emporia Neosho Valley Youth Symphony (ENVY). Rehearsals were on Saturday mornings, so I rode my bike back to campus with my flute in the basket throughout the 6th grade. It was directed by Leopold Liegl, the college orchestra conductor, who ultimately became my flute teacher through junior high and high school. All I can remember rehearsing was Wagner’s Introduction to Act III of Lohengrin. Over and over and over.

My first piano teacher was Mrs. Penna. She lived just across the street from the school and took students starting in the first grade. Mrs. Penna and my mother ended each of our dreaded spring recitals in the Broadview Hotel ballroom by playing a two piano selection. I still have copies of the collection they used. Pat and I have even found a few arrangements in the worn books worth including in our concerts.

I began to study piano in the 6th grade with a college faculty member, Miss M. Irene Johnson. She didn’t smile a lot either. I took weekly lessons in her studio in the Music Hall till high school graduation. Musically, I did OK and usually went in each week prepared. She obviously expected that from all her students. Especially the 6th graders. What she really didn’t like was that occasionally I showed up with a sprained thumb from playing baseball in the neighborhood lot. One week she issued a two-part ultimatum: either baseball or piano was the first part. The second part was to STOP playing popular songs I had picked up from the radio and was playing by ear for fun. I had tried to play my version of “Tennessee Waltz” for her. Bad idea. Big lecture from my mother when I got home. Nobody lectured Aunt Martha or Aunt Tad when they played it. Or “Easter Parade” or “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” But they are not piano pupils of Miss Johnson’s, said my mother, who paid college rates monthly for the lessons. End of discussion.

Eventually, there was a truce. I was one of three students selected to give a solo piano recital at the end of our sophomore year in high school on the stage of the Music Hall auditorium. I still remember Miss Johnson backstage dimming the house lights, bringing up the stage lights, and saying “Now!” — the cue to walk on stage and bow before beginning to play. The program had been memorized months earlier, and it didn’t seem like a big thing at the time because there were three of us doing it that summer. My recital was on July 5th. But it did seem slightly surreal at our Boulder concert on July 5, 2015, to look out and see my daughter and family in the audience, as well as the second of Miss Johnson’s three high school students to give a recital that same summer in the Music Hall auditorium. That person was Franny Ashby Gabrielson who now lives in Lyons, CO, and drove with her husband to Boulder to hear our concert. What an extraordinary treat to see her again after many years of being out of touch. A musical journey had come full circle. It was a fitting end to our first ACKC Concert Tour!

ACKC in Action: Union Station, Kansas City

by Pat Todd on June 30, 2015

We played at Union Station in Kansas City, MO today. The station is HUGE, and in beautiful condition. The pianos were set nesting in the middle of the “great hall” with an enormous American flag hanging behind us. I set our bowl full of American flags for donations on a pretty bench in front of us, and put a program on every one of the 40 chairs.

Bee Tuttle and I had arrived an hour early, so we sat down in the beautiful Parisi Coffee Shop across from the Information Booth. I decided to take a photo of the shop, and a young man jumped out of the way so as not to be in the picture. I told him that it didn’t matter, and handed him the ACKC card that I insert in the 2-piano program. He got his coffee, and came over to our table to tell me quite excitedly that he had a kidney transplant only a couple of years ago at the University of Kansas (KU). We introduced ourselves all around, and I learned that Travis was born with very weak kidneys. By the time he was 30, he was on his way out. His girlfriend at the time donated one of her kidneys to him. They subsequently married, and have been married for a year. Travis works nearby at a medical center in the dialysis department. I gave him my email address, and he promised to send me the news article about his kidney ordeals, which he subsequently did. Read his story here.

It was only 12:30 by then, so Bee and I went outside to walk around the front of the building (we entered from the parking garage entrance). The sidewalk was solid with bricks with names on them. There were thousands of bricks. Bee said that she and her late husband had donated a brick for $200, so we went back inside to the information desk to find out where her brick was. The book of names and numbers is huge, and in alphabetical order, so it was easy to find the Tuttle brick — Section #830. Outside again we walked only a few steps from the front door, and there was the Tuttle family brick.

Time to play the pianos!

Brenda arrived with her hostess and longtime friend and KU sorority sister Carole Coulter who organized both venues in Kansas City for us. We greeted everyone who arrived, which included a few people who work in the station. I hope the pictures come through on this website so that you can see the painted piano I played. It’s described as a work of art. The mother of the artist was there, so we took pictures of her too.

The acoustics were marvelous, but periodically, groups of day camp children would gather at the entrance to the science museum just behind us. Sometimes they were quiet, listening. Sometimes they were rambunctious — and it was perfect. The audience took it all in stride. You must Google Union Station to get an idea of the incredible activities that go on there, and how beautiful it is. It was rescued in the 1990s.

Afterwards, after loading the car, we hit the road for Emporia, KS, Brenda’s home town. Emporia is less than 100 miles southwest of Kansas City, and the air was still full of smoke. The drive was a challenge, the first challenge of the trip, because we were headed into the late afternoon sun, and the fires in Canada are still sending smoke this way. The heat (95 degrees) added to the smog. We didn’t see a cloud or a sign of blue until we arrived in Emporia. And now, as I sit typing this blog in the “office” of the Holiday Inn Express Emporia, the sunset in the window at my elbow is absolutely glorious red red red.

We’re all planning on returning next year. Everyone along the way has spoken about the publicity and how we can get even larger audiences now that we have “broken the ice.” Union Station wants us to play during the holidays this December. That isn’t going to happen, but it was so nice to learn that we were the FIRST to play a two piano concert in the station.

Today was a Brenda Day. Her sorority had a multi-class reunion this past weekend, and at least 10 of them stayed in town for our concert.

I spent about an hour this morning at FedEx getting the programs printed for the concert tonight in Overland Park, for the concert tomorrow at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, and for the concert this Sunday, July 5, in Boulder. While I was waiting, I approached every customer in FedEx and handed them a concert card and told them about our tour and ACKC.

I picked up Bee Tuttle (my childhood playmate in Pittsburgh in the 1940s) in Leawood, and  drove to Carole Coulter’s home in Overland Park (where Brenda is staying) for “coffee” before lunch with Brenda and her sorority sisters (pictured below). Overland Park is south of downtown Kansas City. Leawood is further south. We spent about an hour and a half sharing stories before we all went to lunch a couple of miles away.

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Have I mentioned the air here in Kansas City? There are forest fires in Canada this week, and the prevailing winds have brought the smoke to the city — southeast through Kansas. It’s very impressive. The sunset last night was spectacular, and tonight the moon is red. The smell of smoke is everywhere.

During lunch, every time a new customer sat down, I went to his or her table and handed them a publicity card. No one complained. (I had done the same thing in Raleigh). After lunch, Bee and I returned the long way — into the Plaza district of the city. According to Wikipedia, Kansas City’s “The Plaza” is the first shopping center in the world designed to accommodate shoppers arriving by automobile.

Then we drove through the intersection of a street named “State Line.” It’s truly the state line between Kansas and Missouri, but it’s just another street in Kansas City.

Later in the afternoon I met with Mary Lou Anderson, who lives in Concordia, a small town in north central Kansas. Marylou and her husband John rented the apartment above ours in the army in Stuttgart in 1960. She and I had a lot of photos to show each other, and a lot of old times to catch up on. Mary Lou’s youngest son lives in Overland Park, so she used the excuse of our concert to drive to Kansas City and stay with him.

I arrived at Schmitt Music Store early enough to meet Harry Reed, the owner, to set up the table for our brochures, etc., and to insert our flyers into the programs. Brenda was already there rehearsing with her friend Julie who sang with John Denver many years ago, and sang an old favorite or two as part of our concert tonight.

Schmitt Music, like the Ruggero Piano in Raleigh, is full of concert grand pianos, and has a separate concert hall with a stage and two very large pianos. They were not Bosendorfers this time, nor were they Schlimmers like in Raleigh. Schmitt’s pianos are a Steinway and a Boston. I’ve never played a Boston. It’s very different from the Steinway and the Bosendorfer in that it has a “mushier” action. The tone is very mellow.

I was glad I had ordered so many programs this morning. We had a good audience. Brenda’s sister Paula was there from Topeka with her husband. Bee and her son Kevin were there, all of Brenda’s sorority sisters, and Marylou Anderson and her son Dave and his wife Carol. I didn’t recognize the others in the audience. I’d like to think they were among those to whom I had passed out the publicity cards at FedEx and on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant where we had lunch, and at the tables.

I spoke about ACKC and our mission and website during the program. Once again, I think the concert went well. Should we do this again, I’m going to go to Rotary meetings along the way and see if I can speak.

After the concert I went out to dinner with Mary Lou, her son Dave and his wife Carol. They were intensely interested in hearing about my son John (Todd) who spent several weeks on the farm of John (Anderson) and Mary Lou in Jamestown, Kansas in 1985. Their son Dave was 22 at the time. He and his wife (then “date”) picked John Todd up at the airport when he arrived from Brussels. Dave and Carol both had a lot of good memories and funny stories from that summer. I’m glad I had my iPad with me so that I could leaf through my 5,000 photos from the past couple of years and glean those of John Todd, Steph and Emma to show them.

We talked a lot too about the Mayo Clinic, which isn’t all that far from here, where John Anderson was given 22 extra months to live because of their aggressive treatments for his colon cancer.


Arrival Kansas City

by Pat Todd on June 28, 2015

First of all, I forgot to mention the gorgeous Stella Dora Lilies in North Carolina — thousands upon thousands of them along the highways, at every intersection. The wild flower of the day today was Blacked Eyed Susans — everywhere!

More interesting towns in southern Illinois today on our 450 mile drive from Paducah to Kansas City. Odessa, Napoleon, Wellington, Knob Knoster (?) and my favorite, EMMA (my grandaughter’s name). Lake Lottawanna and Lake Tapawingo — I thought those were keepers.

I love to drive, so this has been a great trip. And Brenda seems to enjoy navigating. The traffic continues to be pretty solid, and the drivers courteous. Someone passed me on the right for the first time today, after 1,700 miles. We experienced the land of Big Sky today, and the endless road stretching to the horizon. The landscape is dotted with Fireworks supermarkets and billboards advertising adult stores (!) at countless exits. It’s only 80 to 90 degrees, most comfortable until the humidity rises.

I had dinner with Bee Tuttle and her son Kevin this evening, old friends from Pittsburgh. Bee and I were playmates in the 1940s. We went to a local ice cream store “Elbow” for dessert that is the BEST in the country, they say. It’s all the rage.

Beyond St. Louis

by Pat Todd on June 28, 2015

We’re in Missouri now. Having lunch west of St. Louis. Saw the city and Gateway Arch over the ridges from I-70. The Ohio River and Missouri River are impressive. Rivers and streams all along the way have been at high water level.

I liked seeing fields of little yellow flowers along the road. Finally got up close enough to see that it’s Bread and Butter.

…Kansas City Here We Come

by Pat Todd on June 28, 2015

We’re just about to get on the road again, leaving Paducah, KY and headed for KC (so sorry about the headlines — couldn’t resist the obvious lyrics).

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More notes from yesterday:

In TN and KY I was impressed with the road signs. We’ve been in the middle of nowhere, but apparently just a mile or two from highway, we would have found Carthage, Alexandria, Lebonan, Cadiz, Paris, Trenton, Vienna, Harrisburgh, Herrin, Casey, Princeton, and Cancun. I also liked the billboards for Moonshine Headquarters, Frozen Head State Park, Hungry Mother Park, and Crab Orchard.

We’re getting 33 miles per gallon. Gas has never been over $2 60 a gallon. Haven’t seen a toll booth since we left Route 95 in Delaware.

We’re Going to Kansas City…

by Pat Todd on June 28, 2015

I have to describe yesterday, Saturday, a travel day.

Brenda and I had done our thank you gift shopping for everyone at Chroma in Guilford, CT. Barbara makes the most original and beautiful works out of glass of the most wonderful colors. But my gift for Lynn and Josie was also left in my trunk on Friday. So Saturday morning, instead of driving many miles to their home, I found my way to the golf course where Lynn and his son were teeing off at 7:15 am. I got there at 7:13, but they had already teed off. The pro saw me roaming around looking for them, and offered to take me out on the course in his cart. We came upon them just as they were getting in their cart to chase down their balls, and I jumped out and gave Lynn the carry-on bag with the heavy glass vase. Of course he couldn’t carry it around the course all morning, so the pro offered to hold on to it for him. By the way, that storm hit and it had rained all night. The course was like velvet.

Then I drove over to pick up Brenda and get on the road. Sandy had learned from her friend that if we were planning on making it halfway to Kansas City at Peducah, KY, we’d better make reservations somewhere in advance because Peducah was FULL. High school baseball tournament and archery. I called Drury, the place Roger had recommended we stay, but it was booked. We found a room at the Holiday Inn Express, where I have been writing this post.

We had a delicious breakfast at Sandy and Ken’s dining room table, and after loading the car with EVERYTHING, we were off.

The sky was ominous all day. We hit one blinding rain storm and four major traffic jams. Two of them were accidents causing the beautiful Route 40 to be closed, and two of them were for fog in the mountainous detour. The wild flowers on the road dividers were magnificent throughout North Carolina (flowers I couldn’t identify) and a lot of Queen Ann’s Lace and Chicory. There was a vine that must have been planted in road cuts that then took over entire sections of forest. The trees were totally covered. Up close it looked like a grape vine. It’s not Virginia Creeper.

The best part of the 700 mile drive was the names of the towns and some of the road signs through Tennessee and Kentucky, i.e., a town called Frozen Head. A road called Andy Griffith Drive to Mount Airy. I have to find that list. Must share.

No matter which road we were on, it was a four lane divided highway, heavily forested, some cows, and many signs advertising a vineyard. But I did not see a grapevine on a hillside.

We stopped for dinner in Marion, TN, but Marion turned out to be a very small town. The Saturday feature was a car show of very old, very highly polished Fords. I took some photos, but with the dark clouds, I’m not sure you can see how fine these cars are. Across the street on the sidewalk were all the wives of the owners of the cars — talking, knitting, crocheting.

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There was no place to eat except Hardee’s so we continued down the highway to Cookeville, TN. True to its name, it was loaded with choices. We ended up at the Longhorn Steak House.

Twelve hours on the road, and just after dark, we pulled into the Holiday Inn Express outside of Paducah, KY, which was FULL of young families with at least three children and the grandparents.

Have I mentioned what it is like to drive outside of the northeast? Everyone is courteous. No shooting stars, no one passing on the right. And everyone exceeding the 70 mph speed limit, even the many trucks.

Raleigh Concert at Ruggero Piano

by Pat Todd on June 27, 2015

Late Friday afternoon Roger and Phyllis and I climbed into their van, stopped at the curb to get the box of programs and ACKC inserts out of my car, and went to pick up Melanie and Burke who were coming to the concert. It was almost unendurably humid and thunderstorms were predicted for the evening. Again?

We arrived an hour later, in plenty of time. Lynn and Josie were setting the tables in the back of the room with fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and drinks, and people were already arriving when I realized that I had left the hats and wigs in the trunk of my car, the CDs we were planning on giving away, and the bowl for donations.  On top of that, my binder was missing with our “encore” music in it, and the master program for the venue. All I had with me were programs from Guilford and Philadelphia, the extras that I had put in the box. Richard Ruggero wasn’t the least bit bothered by the fact that the programs didn’t mention Ruggero Piano, but both Brenda and I were bummed about the hat and wig problem and the loss of some of my music. In the end it all worked out. Ruggero has fund raising concerts frequently, so they had a magnificent crystal bowl for donations. Brenda had her wigs and hats, which we shared during the concert, and she certainly had no problem playing the encore, Change Partners, without music. But I didn’t venture my ragtime number without a crutch in front of a large audience of strangers.

Yes, a large audience! Bryan Lewis had driven from Philadelphia with his family, and brought his parents and his uncle, aunt and cousin. John MacKenzie and his beautiful wife were there, Mary and Colin’s son. The Jens and the Lotchins, and a lot of people who attend the once-a-month Friday evening concerts at Ruggero Piano’s Bosendorfer Hall were there. The pianos were so brilliant that Brenda told me later that she thought I was playing loudly. It was an amazing experience. The highest notes “sang.”

Bryan spoke eloquently again about ACKC and our campaign to get kidney cancer higher on the list of priorities as 27 drugs have been discovered through kidney cancer research that have proven effective on OTHER cancers but not kidney cancer. Have I said that before?

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Friday morning, Ken Jens picked me up and we drove to Raleigh, about 45 minutes away, to meet Richard Ruggero and see the concert hall and the pianos. I have never seen a more beautiful piano store!

If you are allergic to dust, this is the place for you. It is spotless and bright. The Bosendorfer Concert Hall is fab. A stage, lots of seats, great lighting, and sound equipment for recording, all being set up when we arrived. I tried out the pianos on the stage. Both were nine or ten foot concert grands — one a Bosendorfer, the other a Schimmel. Magnificent instruments. I’ve always heard about Bosendorfers, very special pianos, but had never played one. It practically plays itself, so responsive, so crystal clear — a truly brilliant piano from the lowest to the highest note.

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It was good to finally meet Richard Ruggero. He told me on the phone during my first conversation with him that the last Friday of the month is “Concert Night,” and that he would advertise us to his hundreds of followers. A close friend of his has kidney cancer, and he wanted to make sure that we would return next year too. This before he heard us play!

Next was a tour of the workshop in the back where they rebuild pianos, and the special showroom displaying pianos that cost as much as $80,000. Seeing is believing.

Have I mentioned the HOT muggy weather?

Arrival “Research Triangle”

by Pat Todd on June 25, 2015

I dropped Brenda off at the home of Sandy Milroy and Ken Jens in the beautiful woods of Chapel Hill. Their Japanese Garden is beautiful with interesting found rocks from behind the house and knock-out sculptures. You can’t miss the iron statue of a soldier from the buried army of Xian. He looks over the gentle hillside. (See my iPad photo below.)

It was Ken who suggested the Ruggero Piano store in Raleigh for our two-piano concert. And Sandy was very active in publicizing the event for tomorrow evening, Friday, June 26.

I then drove to Phyllis and Roger Lotchin’s house. Maybe five miles away, again deep in the woods. Cedar trees of great height dominate the landscape everywhere. And blooming Crepe Myrtle trees. Their flowers remind me of the pink and white blooms on our Chestnut trees, but they bloom all summer, and are of varying heights, some like bushes. (See photo below.)

I have seen Phyllis and Roger probably only four times since she and I commuted to our teaching jobs on the Illinois Central in 1961. But it always seems like it was just yesterday that we last visited. Unfortunately, their computer was down, and they don’t have wifi, so I couldn’t blog for three days (thankfully I am able to backdate these posts).

Thursday evening the three of us drove to the Jens’ home for a dinner party — the real McCoy — drinks, hors d’ouvres, and sitting at the dining room table for a lovely salmon filet dinner.

Lynn and Josie Elwell were there. Lynn offered to provide refreshments for the concert evening as soon as I had told him about it. Now here we were on June 25, 2015 at a dinner party together. Lynn was one of Ken Todd’s closest friends in high school, and was in our wedding party on June 25, 1960 — fifty five years later! Of course he hasn’t changed a bit.

Don and Marilyn Hartman from next door completed the party. Don loves to play the piano and sing, but he surrendered the piano to Brenda who took requests (old favorites like Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Some Enchanted Evening and Nice Work If You Can Get It) and there we were for an hour after dinner the eight of us, racking our brains trying to remember the lyrics to countless songs.

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En Route to North Carolina

by Pat Todd on June 25, 2015

I continue to write (and backdate) from Paducah, KY, on Saturday night because I was in Chapel Hill Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday without Wi-Fi!

After spending two nights with Bryan and Marisa and the children in Philadelphia, we drove to Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill on Wednesday, and enjoyed an uneventful day on the highways around Washington and Richmond. Route 85 was particularly beautiful, through the woods for miles and miles, practically alone on the road. Brenda’s GPS was a great help, and the rental car is pretty nice. It’s a 2015 Chrysler, 4 door, black, with an amazing amount of zippitydoodah. It has a button on the dash to start it, and a knob next to the cup holder between the seats to shift into drive and park. The emergency brake is a little button next to that. I like it.

More About Chestnut Hill

by Pat Todd on June 24, 2015

The concert went well yesterday.

Bryan and his twins, Isabel and Jack, put programs on all of the seats, and set up the refreshment tables with lots of ice for wine and cold drinks, a lot of yummy cookies, and crunchy nuts.

During our program, Brenda and I had enough Uncle Sam hats with us to be able to give a hat to both Isabel and Jack to wear while we played our Yankee Doodle Suite. When we played Yankee Doodle, we also wore big Uncle Sam hats. For the Bach Fugue part, I donned a very large dark brown curly wig. For Beethoven, Brenda put on an outrageously askew wig. For Chopin, I wore an elegant black top hat, and for the Debussy section, we both wore berets. The wigs and hats added just the right amount of levity to the program — fun fun fun.

The pianos were VERY nice Steinway grands nesting in the middle of the concert hall with rows of chairs all around us.

Because of the storm, it wasn’t a sell out crowd, but everyone enjoyed themselves. Joan Smith’s brother John Michaels and his wife Carol were there!

Bryan gave a brief  talk about his experience with kidney cancer, and we all hung out afterwards.

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Violent Storm Doesn’t Stop the Show

by Pat Todd on June 23, 2015

Our concert in Chestnut Hill this evening evening was a lot of fun, and we reached a lot more people than expected. Bryan Lewis took care of ALL of the details. All we had to do was arrive at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and play.

Unfortunately, a MAJOR thunderstorm hit Philadelphia around 6:30, downing trees all over, and knocking out power. Kudos to everyone who ventured out in support of ACKC in spite of the bad weather!

I had gone to the school with Bryan at 5:00 to attend a kidney cancer support group meeting until 7:00. There were 12 of us around the table, and I was so wishing that I had had a tape recorder going. Each took a turn introducing him or herself, and then giving a brief description of their experiences with kidney cancer, trials, doctors, surgeons. And no two stories were remotely alike. It made me even MORE aware of the fact that there are at least 16 different kinds of kidney cancer. It also spurred me on to do as much as I can to raise funds and lobby for funding for kidney cancer research.

Small World

by Pat Todd on June 23, 2015

Early this morning I introduced myself to Bryan’s next door neighbor who was on the other side of the wall gardening. In the course of our conversation, I said, “I’m from Pittsburgh.” “So am I,” she replied. Turns out we both went to Taylor Alderdyce High School AND to Penn State. But she was there four years after me. We had a lot to share…same high school teachers, etc. Fun. Barbara Levit, my new best friend.

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On the Road

by Pat Todd on June 23, 2015

We arrived in Philadelphia just before rush hour yesterday after a long day on the road getting used to driving a big Chrysler rental, plus two long stops — the first in Englewood for lunch, where we drove past Ken Youner’s house for old times sake. (Ken is former Medical Director of ACKC.)

Bryan Lewis (Executive Director of ACKC), Marissa and the twins, 8-year-old Isabel and Jackson, greeted us warmly. After settling in, we all made pizza from scratch for dinner, along with an enormous spinach salad, and dined outside. Did I mention how hot and humid it was yesterday, June 22? Brenda and I had brought the lunch doggie bag — half of an enormous hamburger from lunch — that we thought would enhance the pizza. But Ben, the very tall puppy, had better ideas for that burger when our backs were turned.

This morning we all walked to Chestnut Hill Academy to check out the venue. Here is a photo to give you an idea of great expectations.

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Brenda and I played through our program while Isabel, Jack, and Bryan set programs on all the chairs and set up the refreshment area. The only thing missing was light on our music. Bryan went home and drove back with a couple of standing floor lamps. It reminded me of our band job playing in Lanphier Cove with band stand lights, twinkie lights overhead, and a standing floor lamp on the neighborhood basketball court.

Concert Blog Launches

by Staff on June 22, 2015

Follow Pat Todd and Brenda Casey as they travel south and then west to perform Concerts to Conquer Kidney Cancer. The two-piano concerts are presented to raise awareness of kidney cancer, advocate for research funding, and benefit ACKC.

After two performances in Guilford, CT (view the videos), Pat and Brenda will head south to the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia. Chestnut Hill just happens to be home to ACKC Executive Director, Bryan Lewis.

Bryan Lewis and Pat Todd were interviewed for a story in the Chestnut Hill Local. Read the article here.

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4 Responses to “Conquer Kidney Cancer Concert Blog”

  1. June 25, 2015 at 12:04 pm, Joni O'Donnell said:

    Hope all is going well Pat and Brenda! Miss you and wish you much luck on your travels. Love and hugs, Joni


  2. June 29, 2015 at 4:00 pm, Mary Mackenzie said:

    My son and his wife loved your concert. My sister will attend in Kansas City Union Station. Hope you are having fun. Mary


  3. June 29, 2015 at 10:17 pm, Anne Seltzer said:

    No blog about Phlla? I am exhausted just reading this! Keep safe and keep having fun and be safe. What a pair of troopers you two are! What’s with the wigs? You didn’t have them in Guilford.

    Love, Anne


  4. July 09, 2015 at 10:09 am, LYNN ELWELL said:

    Dear Pat [and Brenda]: Kudos on your gutsy and successful USA Piano Tour! I read your blog “religiously” and found it chock-full of terrific stuff (and the photographs were amazingly cool.) I imagine you are both home in Connecticut by now taking a well-deserved respite from being “On the Road.” Pat: It was wonderful seeing you again after a too-many year hiatus. I forgot how funny you are and I didn’t even know how musically talented you are. Shame on me for sure. It was great meeting your musical colleague Brenda and Bryan and Richard Ruggero and all the good folks at Sandy and Ken’s terrific dinner party in Chapel Hill. “Look at ourselves, if we had a sense of humor…”

    All the best Pat! Love, Lynn and Josie E.


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