Accomplished pianist, teacher, author leaving Hyde Park after 70 years

JUNE 21, 2017


When Martha Faulhaber was six years old you might’ve found her hiding under a piano. Her father Harry Finke was a self-taught pianist who played musicals and composed Christmas songs and songs for the local high schools and universities in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Naturally, Faulhaber began taking piano lessons at age six and her introduction to piano wasn’t pleasant.

“My first experiences were with a very mean, difficult teacher who used to slap me on the hand with a ruler, it was terrible,” Faulhaber recalled. “I used to hide under the piano and luckily she left after the first year, then I had a wonderful teacher.”

Since her early days of learning piano, the 90-year-old Hyde Park resident has gone on to accompany the Chicago Children’s Choir for 25 years, including a 6-week European tour, teach at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School for children facing emotional challenges and Head Start, co-write three children’s music books, play at Orchestra Hall, and more.

She majored in piano and music theory and graduated from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana in 1948 and moved to Hyde Park that same year to get her master’s degree from the Chicago Musical College, which is now housed in Roosevelt University. There she met her next piano teacher: world-renowned Swiss pianist, conductor, and composer Rudolph Ganz.

“He was a great, he was a recognized pianist in those days,” Faulhaber said.

At the time she didn’t know that one-day she too would become a recognized pianist, here in Hyde Park and in the city.

After meeting her husband Robert Faulhaber here in 1950 -they both missed their graduations to go back to Dayton to get married -they traveled to Europe where she attended a music school in Paris: Ecole de Normale de Musique. Upon her return she started her 25-year-long journey with the Chicago Children’s Choir, which currently over 4,600 youth participate in.“A lot of the older children from the Children’s Choir, when I’ve seen them they’ve come up and said hello and it’s a nice feeling to have people remember,” Faulhaber said. “I remember one especially, there was a young woman who still plays the piano, she plays for ballet dancers and she’s in New Hampshire now.”

Kathleen Finke, Faulhaber’s niece and a schoolteacher, recalled how a colleague at her school remembered Faulhaber from his days in the choir.

“In one of my first years of teaching in Chicago I mentioned that my aunt had played and he was so excited he got this big smile on his face and went ‚ÄòOh Martha’,” Finke said. “He was so excited to know that I was Martha’s niece.”

Her dedication to music education for children was clear due to her teaching and leadership roles as well her role as a children’s music book author. The advice she would give to children aspiring to be musicians is to remain focused.

“They have to work hard. And keep at it,” she said.

She has four children of her own and started them all out on instruments at a young age, her oldest daughter Roberta studied piano, her son Peter studied violin, her daughter Christina studied viola and her daughter Elizabeth studied cello. With starting them out so young Faulhaber didn’t know what sizes they would grow up to be so to her surprise Christina ended up being the smallest of her children, too small for a viola, and her son Peter ended up being the tallest so he would’ve been perfect on cello.

“I was hoping to get a string quartet,” Faulhaber laughed.

Faulhaber also embarked on a musical journey of her own, accompanying more singers than she could count, performing classic works at venues like Orchestra Hall and the American Conservatory, and gaining a duet partner in fellow pianist Laura Fenster.

Fenster recalled that she was drawn to Faulhaber’s music because Faulhaber is always sensitive to what is going on harmonically in music and is always trying to figure out, “what the music is trying to say.”

“She has a very good sense of color, she’s a very visual person so when we work together it’s interesting because she thinks in terms of picture, what is the visual thing, whereas I think of the dramatic thing, what would it be like if someone was saying it in a drama,” Fenster said. “But she has a very visual sense.”

Faulhaber and Fenster met while they both studied under Rudolph Ganz and began performing together in the 1950s. They were known to perform classics like The Variations on a Theme by Haydn, by composer Johannes Brahms, and Visions de l’Amen (“Visions of the Amen”) by composer Olivier Messiaen, of which they were the premiere performers.

“At first I was living in South Shore and she was living in Hyde Park but then we moved to Hyde Park just a few doors away,” Fenster said. “So we’re kind of sisters almost, we did a lot together besides the piano.”

“Yeah it’s been a long time because we’ve been playing together since the 1950’s really,” Faulhaber said. “And I just stopped playing recently (in the last 5 years) because my ears are not good.”

Even with her continuous travels to Europe over the years, with specific trips to Paris that resulted in her and all her children knowing French and her daughter Roberta moving there, Faulhaber believes it was because of her move to Hyde Park that she became the pianist she is today.

“[Hyde Park] offered so many playing opportunities and that isn’t true of a lot of other neighborhoods, it was a big advantage,” Faulhaber said. “I think it was a great place to raise my kids too because it was an integrated neighborhood which was what I liked about it.”

Faulhaber continued on about her love for the neighborhood’s diversity, all of the different people she was able to meet here, and the neighborhood’s proximity to the University of Chicago where she attends lectures and concerts. While she’s optimistic about moving she will definitely miss the neighborhood where she got her start.

“I have lots of friends here who are musicians and there was a Hyde Park Music Club and I was a member of that group so they’ll all remember me and I’ll remember them,” Faulhaber said. “I’ll still have contact with all of my friends here.”

Faulhaber’s husband passed away in 1986 and all of her children have moved from the city, two have also followed in her footsteps and pursued the arts. As she gets older she believes it’s important to be close to her children and grandchildren. For these reasons she plans to move to Denver at the end of the month to be with her daughter Elizabeth and one of her grandsons.

In her past few years in Hyde Park she’s been able to connect more with her niece, who also went to college at Saint Mary’s, her alma mater.

“We graduated 50 years apart from each other,” Finke said. “So we’ve gone back for reunions on the same years but when I was there it was a very proud moment for me because my freshman year she was invited back to perform as a distinguished alum and I was a freshman in college and to have my aunt come and play, it was a big deal.”

Finke also talked about how important it was for her to have a familial connection with Martha in her adult life since she didn’t know her as well because she grew up in their hometown of Dayton.

“We meet for dinner on a bi-monthly basis, and there aren’t any other Finkes in town, so that’s a big part, to have that connection,” Finke said.

For Fenster, having Faulhaber in her life has shown her what true kindness looks like.

“Oh her,” Fenster replied when asked what she would miss most about Faulhaber. “Her personality, her kindness. She’s just totally kind and there’s a sense of understanding what the world is like at the same time. It’s a lot more than a personality trait, she’s just really a good person.”

Faulhaber is passing her talents, and her grand piano, onto her grandchildren.

“I have two grandsons who are really good at the piano. It’s nice to see them develop, and I’ll be with one of them in Denver,” Faulhaber said. “So we’ll probably be doing a lot of duets.”

This was originally published here.


Woodlawn Community Summit to host free Student Writers’ Workshop with Pulitzer Prize winning Poet Tyehimba Jess

JUNE 15, 2017

To Tyehimba Jess, Rhythm and Blues are the genetic material that make up America’s DNA.

The Detroit-born poet’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Olio, published in 2016, focuses on African-American artists from 1865 until WWI and their blues, work songs, and church hymns.

“African-American music is at the center of the American sound. So when you’re listening to the music you’re listening to the soundtrack of America, you’re listening to the heartbeat, the pulse of American history,” Jess said. “You are listening to the sonic signal that generated from all of the personal and historical events that are happening around a musician or a set of musicians at a particular time and when I write about those musicians or when I write about the art that they produce I’m also talking about their history’s, the history of the people they rolled with, and the history of the country that they’re in, they’re all pretty much inseparable.”

The book is about the first generation of Olio, which is defined as “a variety act or show.” Jess zeroes in on the first generation of free African-American artists in the year the 13th amendment was ratified and slavery officially ended.

Jess will read from the book and engage youth in an open conversation during The Woodlawn Community Summit’s Poetry and Writers’ Workshop for students this Saturday, June 17, from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the University of Chicago, Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th St.

Following the reading, youth will participate in a one hour, hands on, writers’ workshop entitled “Phone Book” and facilitated by Asadah Kirkland of the Soulful Chicago Book Fair.

In addition to focusing on African-American musicians Olio is also about comedians, visual artists and the differently abled.

“It’s about the challenges of African-American artists, performing their art with dignity against the backdrop of the minstrel show,” Jess said.

Jess discovered his knack for poetry when he was 15; by the time he was a senior in high school he’d found his footing and won second place in a poetry contest.

He went on to earn his BA from the University of Chicago and his MFA from New York University. The two-time member of the Chicago Green Mill Slam team, and Chicago Poetry Ambassador to Accra, Ghana wrote his first book of poems leadbelly, a biography of blues musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s life in poems, in 2005 and it was voted a top poetry book of the year by Black Issues Book Review.

He reached the acclaim he has today by studying his favorite poets and writers, including Rev. James Lowery who Jess dedicated a blog post to for speaking out against the Bush administration with a note of protest during Coretta Scott King’s funeral.

Ahead of his student workshop this Saturday, hosted by The Woodlawn Community Summit for 6th- 12th grade students, Jess’ advice for aspiring poets is simple.

“Read, read, read and then write,” Jess said. “Read as much as you can, read people that you like, read people that influence the people that you like, and go out to poetry readings and listen to the work that’s being delivered out there and then set yourself down and set some goals for yourself and read and write.”

Jess compares being a poet to being a musician in that, “you have to hear the music before you can play the music, you have to read what’s out there in order to develop your own voice in poetry.”

The Poetry and Writers’ Workshop is free and has several sponsors including The University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement, the South East Chicago Commission (SECC), and Robust Coffee.

“This event gives youth that have an interest in writing and poetry an opportunity to meet a new role model,” Woodlawn Community Summit Co-Founder Deidre McGraw said in the press release, “who is from an urban city (Detroit), that has professionally succeeded as a writer and poet.”

To register for the event visit

For more information contact Deidre McGraw 312-342-7176 or by email at

This was originally published here.

Branford Marsalis visits Kenwood Academy High School

JUNE 15, 2017

“If you’re not afraid to fail, you’ll go far,” Grammy-award winning Jazz legend and saxophonist Branford Marsalis said to music students at Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., when he visited on Wednesday, June 14.

Marsalis visited to work with students in piano instructor Bethany Pickens’ class.

Pickens, who is also a noted jazz pianist, credited Marsalis and his brother, fellow jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, for turning her toward her passion: acoustic music.

“That kind of music was not what I was hearing on the radio,” Pickens said to the crowd of around 25 students and faculty. “It was Earth, Wind & Fire and all these different groups that were electric oriented and they were playing some really hip music but they weren’t playing acoustic music, so he and his brother are the reason I’m even dealing with the piano at all.”

Pickens said Marsalis was a musical chameleon in the way that he could, “blend in with any environment. You could see him this week at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, you could’ve seen him as music director of The Tonight Show, you could’ve seen him play with Sting, you could’ve seen him even play with The Grateful Dead.”

The event kicked off with a performance of “Billy’s Bounce” with Marsalis on saxophone, Pickens on drums, recent Kenwood graduate Charles Morgan on piano, and sophomore Steven Bowman on bass.

The performance was spur of the moment as Marsalis remarked he hadn’t played the song in 30 years.

Following the performance there was a Q & A session where Marsalis talked about his journey from starting piano at age 5 to saxophone in his sophomore year of high school, his transition between classical and jazz music, understanding the culture of music, and finding your sound as a musician.

“You already have a voice,” Marsalis said, when asked whether he developed his voice by studying music and transcribing solos. “When I was 7 years old I sounded like me, when I was 17 fortunately I had more vocabulary, I read more books so I sounded like a more sophisticated version of me, and at 27 I sounded like an even more sophisticated version of me.”

Marsalis said, “You play your horn you sound like you, your vocabulary is all jacked up if you haven’t learned any solos.”

Marsalis explained that musicians start to all sound the same when they focus on learning scales instead of learning solos, and only listen to music and artists that they like.

“A scale is the same sound, it’s an OK sound but if you’re vocabulary is 2,500 scales then it’s 2,500 of the exact same thing,” Marsalis said.

Marsalis also talked about how the history of music is not what is most important, but rather it is the culture of music that is.

“Louis Armstrong recorded West End Blues in 1925, that don’t matter, that means nothing,” Marsalis said. “You have to understand the culture he came from to achieve that sound.”

Armstrong’s music is often not taught at music schools because even though everything he played sounded great, it was harmonically incorrect so most teachers didn’t know how to teach students about him, and Marsalis saw this as a flaw.

“How do you reconcile those things in a classroom? You don’t, you just avoid it,” he said.

During the Q & A, Marsalis spotted Kenwood junior Nyree Moore in the very last row holding her saxophone and wouldn’t take no for an answer as he asked her to come down to the front and play.

Moore, caught off-guard, didn’t know what to play and ended up deciding on Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”.

While Moore began to play she had a few hiccups and Marsalis jumped in with his saxophone to demonstrate a different way to play the classic and they finished out the song together.

Moore had been anticipating Marsalis’ visit for quite some time after Marsalis’ brother Wynton visited earlier in the school year, but she had no idea things would turn out the way they did.

“What was going through my head was, ‘Was this man going to school me, what did he want me to play?’” Moore said. “I didn’t know what else to think besides I have to play something or else this isn’t really going to go over well for [me].”

While playing with Marsalis, Moore was able to discover a new version of one of her go-to songs that she hadn’t heard before.

“I had never really played “The Entertainer” any other way than the one that I had always been taught so to hear him play it like that,” Moore said. “It sounded more correct to me more than anything else and I was like ‘Oh wow I’m getting schooled at the song I usually always play.’”

Will Curry, a saxophone player, recent University of Chicago Lab School graduate, and soon to be Oberlin College freshman, met Marsalis for the first time eight years ago when he was 10 at a jazz event held by Pickens’ father, pianist Willie Pickens.

“I just spent the night watching him in awe,” Curry recalled. The picture he took with Marsalis that night still sits in his bedroom.

After Pickens, a member of his church, sent him a text late last night saying she invited Marsalis to come to Kenwood, Curry knew he had to go.

“He’s such an inspirational guy,” Curry said. “Especially because I’m going to be headed off to music school next year, I’m trying to figure out how to navigate all that and he’s very much a guiding voice.”

This was originally published here.

OWL announces name change to attract more members

JUNE 5, 2017


OWL, previously The Older Women’s League, has announced it is changing its name to stand for Outstanding Women Leaders.

The organization has undergone many recent changes as it disbanded as a national organization earlier this year. Reasons for disbanding included low membership numbers, trouble raising necessary funds, and an aging leadership.

Local chapters, like Hyde Park’s, remain active as nonprofit organizations under a 501(c)(3) tax status they were required to file paperwork for several years ago.

Past President of the National OWL and the Hyde Park chapter, and current newsletter editor of the Hyde Park chapter, Margaret H. Huyck explained that the previous name did not draw enough members.

“We found that many women were not willing to identify themselves as older women, and they didn’t want to join any group that said they were an older woman, which I think was unfortunate,” Huyck said. “I think it’s a terrible denial.”

Talks to change the name began in 2005 and since then the group has worked to change the name to Hyde Park OWL, The Voice of Women 40+, with OWL now standing for Outstanding Women Leaders. They followed the lead of organizations like the AARP, which was previously known as the American Association of Retired Persons but after dropping the description is just referred to as the AARP.

“There’s a lot of resistance to changing, there’s a lot of practical difficulties,” Huyck said. “We decided we would just do like a lot of other organizations have done and shorten it to OWL and that could mean Outstanding Women Leaders, or Older Wiser and Lovelier, or anything.”

According to the OWL website, the organization was founded in 1980 and its purpose is to “work solely on the economic security and quality of life issues impacting women 40+, who account for almost one-quarter of the U.S. population.”

During its 37-year-long lifespan, OWL created “The Health Insurance Rights Act” which was adopted by several states in the 1980s, was invited to The White House by President Clinton to host a meeting on Social Security in the 1990s, and partnered with pharmaceutical companies to conduct research on menopause and osteoporosis in the 2000s.

No matter the name, Huyck insists that the group’s goals remain unchanged.

“We’re speaking and advocating on issues of special concern to mid-life and older women,” she said. “[Our goals] have to do with ensuring financial stability and that of course includes social security, equal pay for equal work, supporting family, and medical leave because a lot of the reasons that women end up poor is because they take time out for caregiving, unpaid family caregiving.”

Unpaid family caregiving has persisting negative effects in women’s lives. By the time they become older they retain the flexibility needed to care for their family members and remain in lower-paying jobs and get paid less in those jobs than men, which results in them having much lower social security payments later in life.

“Children, old people, and people with disabilities, rely mostly on unpaid family caregivers and we can’t ignore that,” she said. “I don’t want the cost for that to be borne only by women.”

The group believes that by making things better for older women, this in turn would make things better for many other people, especially young women.

“Most women will in fact become old,” Huyck said. “So it’s really important if we’re going to protect [them] that we try to make things viable so that [they] can grow old and not be poor.”

With the name change the Hyde Park chapter has seen an increase in membership in the last few years with new leadership and greater emphasis on publicity. While the membership is still largely older women, the group has begun to attract younger women as well.

Huyck believes that in the upcoming years younger and middle aged women will form their own organizations and will figure out the way of promoting education and advocacy that is right for them.

“I still think of it as the Older Women’s League because that’s how it was for a long time,” Huyck said. “But we did have 37 years as a national organization where we did a lot of very good work.”

On Saturday, June 10, Hyde Park OWL will host a presentation and discussion titled “Updates From Our State Representatives and Alderwomen” from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Lower Level Community Room at Treasure Island, 1526 E. 55th St. Ald. Sophia King (4th), Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and other local officials will be in attendance to answer audience questions.

For more information contact Hyde Park OWL president Dee Spiech

This was originally published here.

Bret Harte students thank Montgomery Place’s Residents Council for their kindness

MAY 25, 2017

Bret Harte Elementary School 4th and 5th grade students visited the Residents Council at Montgomery Place, 5550 S. Shore Drive, Wednesday, May 24, to thank the seniors for a $500 donation that makes it possible for the students to take a trip to Springfield, Ill.

“This is the first time that we’re taking a trip like this, it started as a dream,” said Niki Turley, 4th and 5th grade teacher at Bret Harte, 1556 E. 56th St. “I was like ‘You know what? Kids are supposed to learn about the state of Illinois in 4th grade wouldn’t it be great if we just went to the capitol?’ and the kids were like ‘Yeah that would be really nice I’ve never been’ and I thought okay let’s do this.”

Gathering enough funds to escort the 23 students to the capital proved more challenging than the school had realized. When members of the Residents Council got word of these financial challenges they decided to donate funds they accumulated from their rummage sales to the class.

Resident Laurieann Chutis has organized the rummage sales for over three years and they serve as a way for residents to get rid of excess items when they move into the apartment-style retirement community, during spring-cleaning, etc.

“It’s a great way to exchange stuff and get rid of their treasures – and these people have treasures,” Chutis said. “They have not only wonderful clothes but also books, and artifacts, and arts. We have this rummage sale in-house so that other residents can see what they have but more importantly for the [Montgomery Place] workers so the workers can look at the clothes and the art and the furniture and the knick-knacks.”

Close to $1,000 is raised at each of the two-to-three rummage sales hosted each year and any resident can suggest ideas of how the money should be used and submit their ideas to a committee the council created to decide where the funds go.

Residents Council member Mae Wygant suggested that the $500 received from the most recent rummage sale go toward the Bret Harte 4th and 5th grade class trip because of her love and appreciation for schools and teachers.

“My husband and I walked a lot for a couple of years everyday and we would walk by the school and we would say ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to be involved with the children at that school?’ So this year when we had the chance to give ideas, that came to me first,” Wygant, a former art teacher said. “I just love children and I think the schools are so important, the teachers do not get enough money, and there is not enough money for supplies so if we can enhance [monetarily] that’s great. But I think it would be wonderful in time to also be somewhat involved individually or collectively as your principal and the vice principal and the teachers decide there is a need.”

Wygant called the school and asked about the children’s needs and Principal Intern Tomas Reyes informed her about the lack of funds for the 4th and 5th graders’ Springfield trip. She brought the suggestion before the appointed committee and once they decided it was a good idea, approval was needed from the 12 members of the council.

“Then we had to call every single person we could reach on the council and everyone wanted to do it,” Wygant said. “We got 100 percent [approval].”

The 23 students, along with their teachers, filed into Montgomery Place and introduced themselves to the senior residents during a reception that included cookies and other snacks. The students shared their excitement about their upcoming trip.

Neva Hefner, vice president of the Residents Council, presented the $500 check to the 4th and 5th graders from Bret Harte School while they in turn presented the seniors with a large handmade “Thank You” poster.

“On behalf of my scholars I can’t tell you how much this really means to us,” Turley said while holding back tears. “I was coming out of pocket for us to go on this trip, I got to the point where I thought we probably weren’t going to be able to make it. So this came at the perfect time.”

Muriel Rogers, Residents Council member and volunteer activities coordinator for Montgomery Place, also gave the students a tour of the seniors’ library, game room, chapel, art studio, and greenroom. The students quickly formed close bonds with the residents and even started planning a trip to return to Montgomery Place to speak with Holocaust survivors who live there.

The students were overjoyed by the generosity the seniors showed them.

“I think it was just kind and generous that they would give us their money so that we can go on the Springfield trip and learn about our history and just go to a different place we’ve never been to,” Bret Harte student Alexandria Guidry said.

“It was amazing how these seniors decided to donate their own money to us,” Bret Harte student Serigne Cisse said. “We’re just a school and they took time and their money to give to our trip.”

This was originally published here.