Sunday, March 3, 2024
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by Henry Lane Hull

One of my goals as a parent was for my children to learn to play the piano.   Given my late start at fatherhood, by the time the B.E.s came along, my good friend Betty Crandell, for decades the piano guru of the Northern Neck, had retired from teaching.

In a conversation with Charlotte Swaffin, I mentioned my interest, and she immediately directed me to Dr. Martha Stonequist, thus began for our family one of the most interesting associations and delightful friendships that we have experienced.

At the time Marty was living in a home in the midst of Kilmarnock with her two pet cats. She had retired as the City Historian and Archivist of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and moved to Virginia a couple of years earlier. Appropriately, the focal point of the interior of the house was her magnificent grand piano. In addition to teaching, each Sunday she was the pianist at Morattico Baptist Church, a role she filled for over 10 years.

When I called her to inquire about the B.E.s taking lessons, she initially told me that she did not teach piano, rather she taught children, in the process of which they learned to play the piano. The distinction was clear, and over the course of the next several years, it was manifest in many ways. As time passed and I met others of her students, I learned that they could be of any age, for Marty considers learning to be both an ageless passage and a timeless process.

Another nuance, albeit of great significance, was Marty’s selection of the books for the children to use. Instead of sending us to a music store to buy the books, she procured them herself after having met the B.E.s, and having determined what book would be correct for each. Throughout the years that they studied under her tutelage, they never used the same book, but at times each enjoyed playing a piece out of the other’s book. Once on a whim, I attempted to piggyback on the lessons, when the B.E.s taught me to play a few notes of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”  My performance was not stellar, but perhaps one day I might become one of Marty’s students myself, given life’s vagaries.

Marty is the younger daughter of a professor of sociology at Skidmore College in New York. She spent her undergraduate career at Goucher College in Baltimore, and received her doctorate from the University of Colorado. Music and history have been the guiding interests of her life, and she has excelled to the fullest in each.  While serving as city historian of Saratoga Springs, she co-authored a book with Timothy A. Holmes, Saratoga Springs, A Historical Portrait, on the city’s past, replete with numerous photographs, published in 2000.

Marty’s worldview drew form and inspiration early in her career when she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. When she described her Ethiopian experience, I told her that the closest I had come to Ethiopia was standing in the crowd to see the Emperor Haile Selassie when he came to Washington on a state visit.

Several years after we met her, Marty decided to move to Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury, where she took an end cottage in order to be able to continue to give her piano lessons. The move was smooth, and as I would wait while the B.E.s were taking their lessons, I enjoyed reading the collection of journals whereby she kept us with the world at large. She is the proverbial “deep thinker,” and her reading tastes manifest her varied interests.

On Sunday, Marty is scheduled to become an octogenarian, a fact which those who know her must accept on her word, especially as she has yet to be able to count even a dozen gray hairs. Her time here in the Northern Neck has been a wonderful gift to her students and those who have been privileged to hear her play in a wide spectrum of venues. When either of the B.E.s sits to play the piano, I am grateful to Marty for the musical abilities she has nurtured in them, and more broadly for the qualities of living a good life that she imbues in everyone she meets.

Happy Birthday, Marty!  “Ad multos annos!”

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