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Composer-pianist David Feurzeig has embarked on a musical tour to play a concert in every town in Vermont.

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A musician raises consciousness, one concert at a time

Composer/pianist aims to combat climate change through the power of community and music, playing free concerts in all of Vermont’s municipalities over five years

Follow Feurzeig’s journey on Instagram, find up-to-date events by town on Facebook, or visit dfeurzei.w3.uvm.edu/PlayEveryTown/home/index.php.

SAXTONS RIVER—In May, composer-pianist David Feurzeig embarked on a musical tour.

Not just any tour, but one he calls “Play Every Town,” in which he plans to play 251 free concerts — one in each town and city in the state — to help “combat climate change through the power of community and music.”

“Routine international touring is unsustainable—and ‘unsustainable’ means something it’s literally not possible to keep doing,” says Feurzeig, who is anticipating the tour to extend into 2026. “I want to show there can be a performance-tour culture that doesn’t mean hopping on a plane and flying all over the world.”

“In my little world of music performance, it’s a small act of resistance against the jet-touring model,” he says.

On Friday, July 8, he’ll perform his sixth concert at Main Street Arts, 35 Main St., in Saxtons River at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, July 9, he’ll perform at the Guilford Community Church, 38 Church Dr., in Guilford, at 3 p.m.

The concerts are free.

The trouble with touring

With this project, Feurzeig, a professor in the University of Vermont Department of Music, will become the first musician to perform in every Vermont municipality.

“Not just for big stars, but in academia as well there are pressures on musicians to travel far and wide, to maintain an international presence,” he says. “Like so much of our present culture, that’s not compatible with a livable world.”

Fuerzeig traverses the state in his solar-powered electric vehicle, offering the free concerts to bring attention to the interrelated issues of climate and community while also bringing the joy of music to his audiences.

“I want to support Vermont’s local communities with live performance in village centers and downtowns and fulfill UVM’s mission to serve as a resource for the whole state,” Feurzeig says.

Every concert includes some local customization, such as collaborations with local artists or music by a local composer.

In Saxtons River, Feurzeig will accompany two local singers, Rockingham student Kaylee Desmarais and Alyssa Becker, a former student of local vocalist and instrumentalist Julane Deener.

In Guilford, he will perform with singers Peter and Mary Alice Amidon and with the young Banas twins, Chloe and Daphne. Solo piano selections, including music by Mozart, Bach, Scarlatti, Vermont composer Eve Beglarian, and assorted rags and stride selections, will round out the program there.

The method to the message

Asked how he ties the music to his message about climate change, Feurzeig says he makes “oblique connections.”

“For instance, when I play Bach, I point out that he once got leave from his court job in southern Germany to go hear a famous organist play in the north — 280 miles away — and he walked all the way there and back. Like from New York City to Burlington. Somehow Bach was able to advance the art of music to perhaps its all-time zenith without hopping on a plane.”

But the real connection, says Feurzeig, is “not to the repertoire, but to the context.”

“We take so much for granted or even think it’s essential, even though we got through the first 99.95 percent of the history of human civilization without it,” he says.

“We have to de-normalize casual, long-distance travel and re-normalize local activity,” Feurzeig continues. “Performance touring is not a key driver of climate change, but that’s the point in a way: we need to rethink everything we’re doing.”

The musician says we must “radically transform our entire lifestyle and society and economy and governance — yesterday.”

“Playing all 251 towns, going there in my little solar-powered EV, is a symbolic gesture and an extreme one,” Feurzeig continues. “But we need to be extreme.”

“We need emergency action at the highest and deepest levels of society,” he says. “But we won’t get emergency action if we don’t start acting like this is an emergency.”

Unique settings and warm receptions

Feurzeig, a professor at UVM since 2008, specializes in genre-defying recitals that bring together a variety of musical styles, from ancient and classical to jazz, avant-garde, and popular traditions.

These juxtapositions, peppered with informative and humorous commentary, create eye- and ear-opening programs he hopes “will change how you hear all kinds of music.”

Feurzeig finds his approach attracts new audiences to so-called “classical” concerts and brings new insight to existing fans.

“Classical music culture puts the ‘great composers’ on an almost-religious pedestal,” he says — and that creates problems.

“Once this was an indication of the audience’s love and respect, but it distances people from the music,” he says. “It turns away new listeners, who feel like they’re in a stuffy museum instead of a live concert.”

“Sure, the music can be serious, but there’s no reason anyone should feel intimidated,” he says. “And if I don’t get a laugh from the audience in the first two minutes, I get worried!”

Feurzeig says so far, his audiences have been “very welcoming and warm.”

One of the goals of this project, he says, “is to contribute to Vermont’s tradition of hyperlocal community activity, its vibrant village and downtown life.”

“There just aren’t many concerts in most town centers, especially not concerts that focus on acoustic piano and —although I hate to categorize — have a significant classical component,” Feurzeig says.

“And people get a kick out of that happening right in their village, not having to go to Burlington or Montpelier or Brattleboro or wherever,” he adds.

Vermonters “prize this history of local activity,” he says. They also “recognize it’s threatened by Netflix, big-box stores, and yelling at neighbors on social media instead of meeting them face-to-face like humans.”

‘Each concert is special’

Asked about tour highlights so far, Feurzeig says, “All of them.”

“Each concert is special,” he says.

He mentions the Brownington Congregational Church, where Alexander Twilight — the first known African American college graduate in the United States — began serving as minister in 1829.

“The church choir sang a couple numbers with me, and I played on an old Steinway that first lived in the Samuel Read Hall house across the street,” Feurzeig says.

He describes Read as an educator “who invented the classroom blackboard, among other things, and bemoaned the inequality between Vermont’s rich and poor school districts way back in the mid-1800s.”

Next he played in the United Church of Underhill, where he signed the belfry tower wall next to the inscription, “Nov. 11, 1918 — World War is over.”

“It was very moving,” says Feurzeig. “While our current existential crisis is unprecedented in scale, it is not the first time people faced what felt to them like doom.”

At the Hazen Union School in Hardwick, Feurzeig had the “privilege” of accompanying his former student, flutist Leah Gagnon, now the instrumental music teacher there.

“I also accompanied her colleague, Mavis MacNeil, Hazen’s vocal music teacher and a composer, in her own Robert Frost setting,” he says. “This really underscored for me the connection between the outreach/extension and education missions of UVM and of this project.”

In the spring, Feurzeig will perform a new piece he’s going to write for piano and orchestra with the student ensemble of the Miller’s Run School in Sheffield.

“This is a school in a small, under-resourced town in the [Northeast Kingdom] that has built an instrumental music program out of thin air, where now every single student has two years of violin lessons followed by their choice of continuing on strings or taking up a band instrument,” Feurzeig says. “It’s incredibly inspiring.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #670 (Wednesday, June 29, 2022). This story appeared on page A1.

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