AMSF 10th Anniversary Celebration: An Historical Perspective

by Matthew Harre

Sometimes, when people talk to me about the Adult Music Student Forum, they refer to it as “my” organization. It’s been a long time since I felt that AMSF was mine. There have been way too many people who have worked hard to make this organization for any one person to claim it as his own. I have been asked to lead off this 10th Anniversary Celebration with a brief history of the Forum, and in doing so I would like to note three individuals in particular who have been especially important in the growth and development of AMSF. But, of course, there’s always Anne Williams.

When I first started teaching piano at Ellsworth Studios in Bethesda, I was in my early 20’s and didn’t know music teachers weren’t suppose to teach adults. When Mark Ellsworth found out I would teach adults, he sent me all the ever-increasing number of adult piano students. As a result I moved from being the only teacher who’d take adult students to becoming the expert at teaching adults; because, after all, I had so many.

In time, we had a few recitals for adults at Ellsworth’s. Beau Kaplan, the man I accompanied just a minute ago, participated in the first of these. In fact, he was also the very first member of the Adult Music Student Forum. When Ellsworth Studio closed I “took my adults home with me,” so to speak, and soon began my own regular series of adult recitals similar to the informal recitals of the Forum. Several participants in these recitals are still members of the Forum. Jim Cassedy was one and he will say a few words soon.

Jim also played in an adult recital series run by the Washington Music Teachers Association. Actually, that was where I first heard Anne Williams play. She played part of a Bach French Suite and I believe Anne does not remember this as one of her better Sunday afternoons.

Joanne Rousseau, one of my students in my early informal recitals, joined with me in forming the Adult Music Student Forum. She worked for a prominent mutual fund and our diverse backgrounds formed an odd combination. Joanne wanted us to work on our business plan and I could never figure out why. Joanne felt we needed to start with a survey to find people’s different levels of interest and that we needed to find someone highly qualified to skillfully draft the questions. I felt I already knew what the questions should be and that I already knew what the answers to these questions would be so why should we do it. Well, we did the survey and I did the questions. Some of you may remember the survey. Such were the compromises of our work together, but we succeeded and Joanne was the first president.

Our first meeting was a lecture given by Rodger Ellsworth at the River Road Unitarian Church. With the truly upbeat title of, “Performing for Pleasure,” it included a masterclass with two participants. One of these was Mike McCoid who was one of the most uncomfortable performers I’ve ever encountered. The second was Anne Williams. I believe I’ve heard Anne refer to this as a helpful experience in her performing career.

The Forum took over the adult recital series run by Dorothea Nahm for the Washington Music Teacher Association and Dorothea came with us to the Forum as chair of these recitals for several years. We started a lecture series which included some wonderful lectures by people like John Eaton, jazz pianist, Don Thulean, president of the American Symphony Orchestra League, and Charles Timbrell who had just authored a book on French Pianism. We started different informal recital series and a newsletter.


All of our activities need people to run them and people have always come forth to do this work. One of the big problems is finding someone to do refreshments for the formal recitals. It’s hard enough entertaining in your own home but dragging everything to the location of the recital is a formidable task. For a couple years, Anne Williams, ably assisted by her husband Paul, took on this responsibility with an unmatched expertise. They would arrive at the church and a conveyer belt would extend from their car into the kitchen and the supplies would come forth. I’m exaggerating, of course, but the significant thing here is that Anne had become comfortable enough in her performing that she could take on the added pressure of providing refreshments at recital end.

After Joanne Rousseau, the second person I would like to single out is Susan Green, our third president. Few people understand and appreciate the legal underpinnings necessary for an organization to exist. Without Susan Green, AMSF would not have any. The Forum started as an intentionally murky extension of the Washington Music Teachers Association. It was Susan’s work that established the Forum as a totally independent corporation. Let me quote from her bylaws:

“The corporation shall indemnify any director or officer, or former director or officer against expenses actually and necessarily incurred in connection with the defense of any action, suit, or proceeding in which he or she is made a party by reason of being, or having been, such director or officer, to the full extent permitted by law.”

This may not excite you. What it means though, is that anyone serving on the AMSF board is personally exempt from liability for damages incurred by the Forum if any should arise, to the full extent of the law, of course. If you serve on any boards that don’t have this clause in their bylaws, you may want to reconsider your participation on those boards or, then again, you could revise their bylaws.

In addition, Susan went to the IRS with the many pages of forms and justifications necessary for us to qualify as a tax exempt 501(c)3 organization. This is ongoing work that Susan does very quietly but which makes a big difference for the Forum. Without Susan’s work, we could not legally raise money to restore the piano for the Washington Home.

Actually, the Washington Home brings together two of the most ubiquitous workers for the Forum. After Sue Suffae quit being treasurer – during which time she helped Susan with all those tax forms – Sue started the Washington Home Outreach Program in which different members of AMSF perform for those who reside at the home. Before and after this Sue hosted our annual featured composer event in her home. (By the way, are you practicing your Mozart this year?) And if you wonder where Sue is now, you can find her in the kitchen catering the extensive food portion of this celebration.

When Sue stopped recruiting performers for the Washington Home, Anne Williams took over. Anne is now so comfortable performing, she’s out harassing other of our members to do the same. Not only that, she’s taken it upon herself to raise money to fix the instrument they play on. Even further, she’s moved out from harassing amateurs to harassing professionals like Brian Ganz to do their part to help raise money. Clearly Anne is on her way to the Year 2000 Recital at the Kennedy Center being arranged by Richard Zeirdt.

The Forum works only because of the people who care enough to do all the work. No single person deserves more credit for this than Libby Francisco, without whom the Forum simply could not exist. The printed programs for the first lecture were done by Libby, as well as the invitations for today’s celebration and almost all the publishing in between. Except for the first two years when Judy and Walter Kirkland did the newsletter, Libby has been the editor and publisher of Keynotes. Membership records have been handled by Libby from the very beginning. This is the day-in day-out work no organization can exist without. During it all, Libby has been grossly underpaid not only for her time but also for materials. When Joanne wanted to stop being president numerous natural successors were in crisis, pregnant, or departing. Libby was the only one with enough board knowledge to take on the task. It was not a task Libby wanted. But take it on she did and the Forum continued to move forward during her tenure.

The Adult Music Student Forum has existed for ten years and today, finally, I seem to no longer have trouble saying the name. During this time it has been a pleasure for me to watch the Forum grow as a meaningful entity for so many wonderful people; to see how the idea of the Forum has changed by the different personalities working with it; and to see how, to some degree, the people involved with it have been changed by the Forum.


Copyright ©1998