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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: March 13, 2018

240 Strings celebrates the gift of a piano with a community gathering

Written by: Bob Keyes

240 Strings includes Tracey Jasas-Hardel, Annie Antonacos and Ben Noyes.
Photo by Erin Little/Courtesy of 240 Strings

A Portland piano trio, whose primary mission is providing music lessons, chamber music workshops and affordable concerts for youth and the community, will host a “piano warming” concert Wednesday at its new home at the Mechanics Hall in downtown Portland.

240 Strings received a Yamaha baby grand piano as a gift and approached the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association about storing and using the piano for performances at the hall and making it available to other groups for concerts, musicals and other events. The association owns and runs the hall and has been seeking more community partners for rentals and events.

Wednesday’s concert celebrates the gift.

Annie Antonacos, pianist and co-founder of the trio, called the addition of a piano at a small downtown performance space a game-changer. “It’s been on everyone’s wish list for a long time to have a piano downtown that is not necessarily in a church, and that’s a great space for chamber music – and that is not Merrill Auditorium,” she said. “It’s so hard to find a piano. This is a wonderful opportunity for everybody.”

Thomas Blackburn, superintendent of the hall, said that having a piano available will help the Mechanic Association achieve its goal of reaching more people. The association has existed more than two centuries by promoting ingenuity, innovation and creativity in the trades and enterprises of Portland through community partnerships.

In recent years, the association has aggressively promoted its third-floor ballroom as a place for theater, music and gatherings public and private, and the hall has become a regular stop on the First Friday Art Walk. Acorn Productions uses the ballroom regularly, as does the Portland Swing Project. The piano will make the hall attractive to more diverse musical groups, including chamber ensembles, Blackburn said.

240 Strings will host four concerts a year at the hall.

Four years ago, 6,500 people passed through the doors, Blackburn said. Last year, that number exceeded 22,000. “We’ve had 110 renters in two and a half years,” Blackburn said. “We’re getting a lot of exposure, and so the addition of the piano is very good for us and very good for the community.”

The piano was a gift from Richard and Clorinda Noyes, longtime Portland musicians.

Their son, Benjamin, plays cello in 240 Strings. The other member of the trio is Tracey Jasas-Hardel, a violinist. 240 Strings takes its name from the number of strings used in a piano, violin and cello.

It was important to the group to find a home for the piano downtown, within walking distance for people who live on the peninsula, Ben Noyes said.

“Central to our mission is to bring music to the community,” he said. “It’s a great spot, right downtown. Classical music is best experienced live, where you can see the performers. Being able to come into a hall and see professional musicians perform in the moment is pretty special.”

240 Strings formed in 2016 with a primary goal of providing subsidized music lessons to Portland youth. Antonacos and Noyes are childhood friends and grew up playing together. Antonacos and Jasas-Hardel met through music.

Wednesday’s gathering will include a performance by 240 Strings and a video viewing of 240 Strings’ student performances.

240 Strings Piano Warming/Happy Hour

WHERE: Ballroom at Mechanics Hall, 519 Congress St., Portland
WHEN: 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 21

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