Last Sunday for the fifth year in a row George Washington joined a birthday celebration in his honor at Montpelier Estate in Laurel. With his wife Martha, members of his cabinet and their wives, General Washington enjoyed a program of Mozart played by young musicians from the area.
There to greet George Washington and his cabinet, who were portrayed by bewigged and costumed past masters of the Waverly Masonic Lodge in Baltimore, was Laurel resident Naomi Madison. The 81-year-old Madison originated the idea of a George Washington musicale at Montpeolier in 1976 as part of Maryland's Bicentennial celebration. A historical precedent for the musicales existed because Washington was known to have stopped off at Montpelier on his travels between Mount Vernon and Annapolis, once the capitol of the colonies. Sponsored by the Friends of Montpelier Mansion, the 1976 musicale was such a success that it became an annual event.
For Madison, a retired professional cellist and still active music teacher with nearly 100 students, the musicale has been one of many community and musical activities that keep her so busy that she barely has time for an interview.
"I was brought up to be busy," said Madison, the crispness of her native Boston still evident in her speech despite 40 years in Laurel. "My mother believed busy people were healthy people. Apart from childhood mumps and measles I haven't been sick a day in my life."
Quick to praise others, Madison is reluctant to talk about a past that includes studying the cello and piano at the New England Conservatory, coaching with the famous cellist, Pablo Casals, cello recitals with Arthur Fiedler as her accompanist and soloist appearances with American orchestras, including the Boston Symphony under Pierre Monteaux. Even when she does discuss her active concert life of the 1920s and 30s she is apt to talk more about the musicianship of others rather than herself. A sense of modesty tempers any reference to herself and music.
"Music comes from God, you know," explained Madison. "We are only intermediaries. That's something my mother used to instill in me. If there are good things, she would say, it is only because you've practiced and trained your fingers. The rest comes from God."
Madison passes that philosophy on to her students: "I say to them that if you ever doubt music comes from God, just remember that Beethoven was stone deaf when he wrote the Ninth Symphony."
As for students who do not practice, Madison snapped: "I call up their parents and tell them to find another teacher. I don't have time for such people; they don't know what life is about. Remember that saying -- 'I am yesterday's flowers, said the hay.' If you don't flower when you can it's too late because then the hay is there.'"
When marriage brought Madison to Laurel 40 years ago she continued her professional life, combining performance with teaching. In the early 60s she retired from concertizing and now plays only for herself and friends.
Retirement, is however, a word that has little meaning for Madison. No sooner had she retired than she organized the Schumann Chamber Music Society, a group of retired music professionals who gave benefit performances for causes and groups in the area. After a fall three years ago which injured her sciatic nerve Madison was advised by her doctor to slow down a little.
"I told him 'no way,'" said Madison in an emphatic tone. "You take music away from me and you might as well send for the town mortician. Music has been my life -- I'm right in seventh heaven."
Although music has been and remains the center of Madison's life, she has found time to take part in community activities. On Feb. 22 she was honored by the Laurel Jayceeettes as a senior citizen who had made outstanding contributions to her community including the organizing of Laurel's first Well Baby Clinic, the founding of Laurel's Business and Professional Women's Club and serving as an officer with the Maryland Federation of Women's Clubs.
"Life has been very generous to me and given me the opportunity to meet a lot of people and do a lot of things," said Madison. "You know, you cast your bread out upon the waters and it comes back cake."