Project Proposal: Hartge History of Music

“ I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me — like food or water. “-Ray Charles

Music has been in our family for generations, however until now I was not entirely sure for how long music has influenced our lineage. Henry Hartge was a well-educated cabinetmaker in Germany in the 1700s, he was married to Emily Tscheripe, and they had four children. Life was well for the Hartge’s, however in 1831 Henry encountered several economic setbacks, as well as a cholera outbreak that caused countless Germans to immigrate to the United States. In 1832 Henry made the heartbreaking decision to leave his family in search of wealth and prosperity in America. Henry and his nephew sought out a ship leaving for Baltimore, and once they arrived Henry found a job with a pianoforte manufacturer. He found this to be a quite lucrative business, and was soon able to send money back to Germany so that Emily and their children could join him in Maryland. Once they arrived, Henry purchased a farm where he carried out the rest of his days as a piano maker. Henry took on an apprentice, William Knabe, who later went on to partner with Henry Gaehle to create Knabe and Gaehle Pianos. Henry Hartge Pianos, following the civil war, unfortunately went under, yet the love of music was passed down through generations to come, eventually making it to me, nearly one hundred and sixty years later.

My mother has been passionate about music from a young age. I can hardly remember a time where she wasn’t singing along to her James Taylor CD. As I got a little older I found myself intrigued by the grand piano that we had in our living room, that on occasion my mother would play. I remember sitting on the old oriental rug under the piano brushing the hair of my favorite American Girl doll and listening to my mother play. On a few occasions my Uncle Robert would play for us, and that was always a treat. Uncle Robert’s claim to fame was that he could simply listen to a song just a few times, and be able to then recreate it perfectly on the piano. My brother and I considered it a treat whenever Uncle Robert would play for us.

When I was 6 I decided to attend piano lessons from my Great Aunt Belle, who would patiently sit with me as I loudly, and quite horrendously, played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for an hour. I remember watching her nimble fingers slide along the keys, attempting to teach me the fluidity that a piano should be played with. Unfortunately, my piano playing days were short lived, and I transitioned to the violin. I kept up with the violin for quite a few years, however my ballet practices were getting more intense, and I was unable to attend both practices every week.

The Nutcracker

On my 8th birthday my mother let me try out for the Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s version of The Nutcracker. I was over the moon, as I had watched the older girls in my ballet classes go on to play gypsies, and mice, and nothing would have pleased me more than to join them. As I approached the tryout room, my ever-positive mother reminded me not to get my hopes up, yet I knew that I probably would. I tried out for a new role that year, Clara’s little sister Louise. It was the biggest role for girls in my age group, so I set my eyes on the prize.

Two weeks later I received a note in the mail notifying me that I had in fact, received the role of Louise. After months of practicing, and countless dress rehearsals, I was ready for my first ever performance with a major ballet company. To this day, when I hear the sound of the Overture that begins the Nutcracker, I go back to those moments standing behind the big red curtain, eager to perform.

Not two weeks ago I learned that Tchaikovsky, the composer of the Nutcracker, played on a Knabe Piano at Carnegie Hall on his tour of the US. To me this was only fitting, as Knabe, who learned his craft from my ancestors, would create a piano that would go on to be played by a composer who has had such an incredible impact on my life.

Interview Questions

What is your first memory of hearing music

Did you ever learn piano?

Did you own a piano?

Did Grandpa ever play music?

Did you know that we had a history with piano-making?

Did Aunt Belle play when she was younger?

Did you want Mom and Uncle Robert to learn to play piano? Why?

Who was the most musical in your family?

Were there any other instruments that our ancestors played?

Why did you buy the boatyard?

Did you know that we had a lineage of men who built boats, and before that pianos?

How far has woodworking been a part of our lineage to your knowledge?