Old club finds new venue, with piano

In 1886, a group of Washington ladies who loved music got together to present concerts and talks in their drawing rooms. One hundred twenty-five years later, the Friday Morning Music Club is still presenting regular concerts by amateur musicians, has its own orchestra, holds the annual Washington International Competitions and is preparing to start its anniversary season with a gala concert on Sept. 24.

For a few weeks, however, the ladies of the FMMC — for the leadership is still nearly all women — thought they were going to usher in their 125th-anniversary season by lifting their concert Steinway out a window of their third-floor performance space with a crane.

This summer, the FMMC was evicted from its longtime home. Since 1990, the organization has been holding weekly concerts in a quiet, carpeted room on the third floor of the Charles Sumner School Museum, on 17th Street NW. The FMMC is used to relying on the kindness of strangers, having operated, throughout its history, at spaces all over Washington; the Sumner School Museum worked with them under a convenient no-rent agreement, the most recent version of which was drawn up in 1996.

In the years since, city budget cuts have taken their toll. According to Kimberly Springle, the museum’s current director, the Sumner School Museum had as many as 13 employees in its heyday; today, she is the only full-time employee besides the security guards. “Due to budget constraints and lack of staff,” Springle said, the museum felt it could no longer accommodate not only the Friday Morning Music Club, but other groups that had regularly convened at the museum, including the Pre-Columbian Society of Washington. None, however, had quite the presence of the FMMC.

Terrified at the prospect of finding a new performance space, the club’s officers invoked the old operating agreement; but the only copy they could locate was an unsigned draft, and Springle declared it null and void. The original signed copy, of course, still exists in the club’s archives. Unfortunately, those archives are stored in the D.C. Historical Society, and services there have been suspended indefinitely, also due to lack of funds.

The club was left with no alternative but to take its piano and find a new home. The latter proved easier than the former. The Calvary Baptist Church in Penn Quarter said it was delighted to work with the organization; the church already hosts other performing groups, including the Theatre Lab.

Taking the piano with them was the difficult part. Moving a nine-foot concert Steinway is no easy task. Getting it into the museum orginally had involved removing a window and using a crane. The club was fully prepared to reverse the process, and lined up the crane and movers for a date a few weeks ago, only to learn that the movers had not obtained the permits that might be needed in case the crane had to be used to get the piano into its new home at the church. Springle suggested an alternative: The club could simply donate the piano to the museum. But the club wasn’t willing to consider the donation of an instrument worth anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.

On Wednesday, the FMMC found a happy ending. A new piano-moving company used a special elevator jack, and the strength of nine movers, to wedge the piano into the Sumner elevator and get it out of the museum. Now the piano is installed in its new home, and the club is prepared to start its regular season there on Oct. 7.

“We’re very excited about being in Penn Quarter,” says Barbara Cackler, the club’s program director. “And the new venue does not have any carpeting on the floor, so the acoustics should be much better. We’re looking forward to a fresh start.”

Anne Midgette came to the Washington Post in 2008, when she consolidated her various cultural interests under the single title of chief classical music critic. She blogs at The Classical Beat.
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