Classical music finds a home and a following in Landrum

Published 10:00 pm Friday, May 20, 2016

Music in Landrum concerts are held at the Landrum United Methodist Church.

Music in Landrum concerts are held at the Landrum United Methodist Church.

Area residents, and visitors who time it right, can enjoy superbly performed classical music at no charge some six or seven times each year, thanks to a program called Music in Landrum. The program is organized by Whitney Blake, a classical music aficionado in Landrum.

“I never expected this to come together,” Blake admitted about the concert series. However, it has, and its popularity grows with each concert. The venue is currently the Landrum United Methodist Church, on Hwy. 176 in Landrum, but concerts have also been held at Landrum Presbyterian.

Though the spring concert series has concluded, a fall through spring schedule has been announced. The first performance will be by the Upton Trio on Oct. 2.

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Blake had been involved with Friends of Landrum Library for years, and while there, she worked on the Roots Festival, drawing “really big crowds for six weeks.” The music performed there was Americana, Blake said—a mix of folk, country, Celtic and more.

Classical “is my first love, as music goes,” Blake emphasized. But soon after the Roots Festival, she thought, “Why not have it (classical music) right here?”

“We really want people to experience this music who have never before,” Blake emphasized. Since its inception in 2013, Music in Landrum has brought 18 concerts to the public, all at no charge.

“When it was clear that people would show up, we incorporated as a non-profit,” Blake said. Music in Landrum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with a board, and is able to receive grants. The board chair is Landrum resident John Matheis.

“It’s no longer my thing,” said Blake, who prefers to remain in the background. “It belongs to the public.”

The first few concerts were sponsored by what Blake called ‘the Mary Comerford Fund,’ fondly named for her own mother, who took Blake to the symphony when she was five, along with all her siblings.

As did so many young women of the time, Blake took piano lessons. She still plays, but does not perform.

Maybe Blake would have predicted a bright future for Music in Landrum, when Miles Hoffman was the first performer. In 1985 Hoffman formed the American Chamber Players, a core group of artists of the Library of Congress Summer Chamber Festival. The group has toured throughout North America, and has also performed in a series of special gala concerts at the Paris Opera and the Bibliotheque National.

Recent performances in Landrum have included one by the Parrini Trio from Italy, New York City and Greenville, S.C.

“I feel like I’ve been gifted, Blake said. “We’ve been so lucky.”

Upcoming performances include a one by cellist Louise Dubin from France, on Nov. 13.

Blake noted that while Music in Landrum does not fund musicians’ travel expenses, many arrive in this area for multiple performances. “However,” Blake says, “We pay well.”

Among the performers will be students of violin teacher Eun Sun Lee, head of the strings department at Wofford College in Spartanburg.

“We provide one of the students with lessons and an instrument,” Blake said. “In return, they come play for us.”

In addition to grants through Music in Landrum’s tax-exempt status, Blake, who spent 25 years working for a large publishing house in New York City, and has a strong business background, provides some concert funding through less conventional means.

She raises shiitake mushrooms, sells them at IGA and the local farmers market, often selling out in some ten minutes at the market. The money from mushroom sales generally funds one concert per series. People purchase mushrooms and hear about the concert series.

Landrum United Methodist Church has some 200 seats, and “incredible” acoustics, Blake noted. She would some day like to build a performance venue in Landrum.

“Life’s pretty funny,” Blake commented. “It’s such a community thing.” For Blake, community includes Landrum, other communities in Spartanburg and Greenville counties, along with Saluda, Tryon, Columbus and others in the area.

In addition, Music in Landrum provides tickets for young musicians to the Spartanburg Symphony.

“We’ve been involved with these fundraising things for four years,” Blake noted.

Other fundraising has been for music education, for Ladies Night Out and for breast cancer survivors. Music in Landrum has also been involved with concerts in Asheville, Spartanburg and other locations, but is now concentrating in Landrum.

In addition to wonderful music, attendees also come for the chocolate. Blake makes chocolate gifts, shaped like pianos, violins, and sometimes giant cellos. The chocolate pieces are used for advertising and also for great, guilt-free eating. According to Blake, the chocolate figures contain no artificial ingredients and no PGPR, an endocrine disruptor found in some commercial chocolates.

The relatively small number of concerts reflects the busy schedule of Landrum United Methodist Church.

“They’re a very busy church, Blake emphasized. “They are delighted with the concert series.”