As Barbara Feld makes her final preparations for her retirement from Tuesday Musical Association on June 30, she knows she’s leaving the 125-year-old organization in good hands with new Executive Director Jarrod Hartzler.
“I came to my job really without any experience, and I just grew,” Feld said of her 24-year tenure with Tuesday Musical.
“Jarrod is coming to this job with not just schooling. He has the hands-on experience plus that incredible year as a Kennedy fellow. … I think he’s just been waiting for the right opportunity, and this is it. I’m excited for him, to see him grow, and to come into his own in this position.’’
Feld, who will turn 70 July 5, began in 1989 as Tuesday Musical’s part-time concert manager, making $5,000 a year. The position evolved, changing into full-time general manager in 1998 and, soon afterward, executive director.
She knew she had big shoes to fill when Lola Rothmann, also active with the Akron Symphony and one of the founders of the Stan Hywet music series, retired after 19 years as concert manager with Tuesday Musical.
“I was scared to death,” said Feld, who nevertheless told herself she could do the job. “Lola was such a role model.”
Feld, whose father was an illiterate assembly line worker at GM and whose mother was a waitress with an eighth-grade education, had never taken a music lesson in her life until her late 30s, when she bought a piano. The Felds and their two young children, Rebecca and Lucas, had moved to Akron from St. Louis in 1978 when husband Denis took a job with Goodyear Aerospace.
“I had never heard of Akron, Ohio,” said Feld, who worked part time at Goodyear Aerospace as an engineer aide.
Starting piano lessons in the early 1980s was a fateful move. Feld’s piano teacher, Jan Smith, sponsored her as a member of Tuesday Musical, which used to be a requirement to join.
“I didn’t know that at one time it was this elitist organization, because that is something so totally not me,” Feld said of the classical music club founded by 13 young women in 1887.
Tuesday Musical, which began with evening chorus recitals for the public and afternoon study groups for members, evolved into a nonprofit presenting organization that brings in world-class performers in a six-concert series. It also runs educational outreach and scholarship programs. In just the last several years, Feld has brought in opera star Renee Fleming, renowned violinist Joshua Bell and superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Feld, a native of St. Louis, studied at Columbia Basin College in Washington and the University of Missouri in Columbia, where she received an English degree. She met husband Denis while she was working a summer job in the library at McDonnell Douglas at age 20.
As Feld got her feet wet in Akron, the lessons she learned from her entrepreneurial parents, Harold and Irene Reid, kicked in. Her hardworking parents, who also raised three sons, had owned a farm in southern Missouri as well as a filling station.
“Their work ethic was incredible,” said Feld, who lived in the same house in North St. Louis from first grade until she married.
In Akron, Feld volunteered selling ads for the Tuesday Musical program books and then worked on the concert planning committee. By the time she applied for the concert manager job in the ’80s, Feld also had volunteer experience producing concerts: She brought local piano virtuoso Pat Pace back to the Akron performing scene in 1981. The musician, who died in 2006, had been playing local jazz clubs but had given up dreams of being a concert pianist after struggling with drug addiction in New York.
When Feld cold-called Pace and told him she wanted to present him in concert, he said no. But Feld, who had heard a lot about the man who had been a boy genius on accordion, was unstoppable: “Everyone wants to hear you play and you have this public out here who loves you,” she told him.
“Something clicked and he trusted me,” Feld said of Pace, who in 1981 sold out his comeback evening concert at Tangier and added a matinee.
Gut instinct has worked often for Feld. In another side project, she worked with a small committee to put on a benefit performance to help young local pianist Andy Parr get to a Chopin competition in Warsaw, Poland. The concert at the University of Akron was standing room only.
Those early successes gave her the confidence to take on the Tuesday Musical job.
Feld remembers 1998, the year Tuesday Musical hired a consultant to assess its strengths and weaknesses, as a professional turning point for her.
“He said, ‘Do not be afraid to take risks,’ ” Feld said of the consultant. “The job began to crystallize and I saw what could be done.”
She began to bring in performers that challenged audiences more, or came with a bigger price tag. Feld had convinced the concert committee to present the experimental Kronos Quartet in 1995, a group that brought a performance art flair unfamiliar to Akron audiences.
“I lost half the audience at intermission,” she recalled. “Right then and there I thought, ‘This has to change,’ ” she said. “Our audience has to realize that there is a new sound, and that there are new artists out there who are breaking ground.”
The performance planted the seed for the FUZE! concert series of avant garde classical music, a collaboration between the Akron Art Museum and Tuesday Musical that ran from 2009 through 2012. Feld said that partnership was one of her proudest moments.
During the 1990s, Feld began focusing more on Tuesday Musical’s outreach. That included co-producing operas with the University of Akron for four years, beginning in 1990.
A big part of outreach was making concerts affordable for families. About 20 years ago, the late Jane Kaufman, past Tuesday Musical president and development guru, obtained funding to offer families four concert tickets for $25. That program evolved into the current free tickets for students, which can be paired with a reduced-price adult companion seat.
The next step was connecting the world-class musicians with Akron-area students at their elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and universities through lecture/demonstrations, workshops and master classes.
“It has just grown and become such a part of what Tuesday Musical does, and perhaps that is what I am most proud of,” Feld said.
“If we’re going to really build future arts consumers … we have to not only get them into the hall but we have to introduce them to these people who can inspire them, motivate them, give them career choices and have them really interact with these musicians, so that they understand that it’s not just about getting up in front of an audience and having all the applause, but what it takes to get there.’’
She pointed to an outreach program last fall, when saxophonists Sherman Irby and Walter Blanding from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra worked with jazz ensembles at Firestone, Ellet and Cuyahoga Falls schools.
“It was like a life lesson for me as an adult, listening to these two men mentor these students, work with them musically but also tell them what it takes to be a musician. It was so inspiring, and the students were on the edge of their seats listening,” Feld said.
Feld was both surprised and humbled in late May when music teachers at Garfield High School presented her with an award for her years of outreach work with their students.
To continue her mission, the Feld Educational Experience Fund has been established through the Akron Community Foundation. The fund will support more in-depth education experiences for local middle- and high-school students with visiting Tuesday Musical artists.
The new fund will be launched at Tuesday Musical’s 125th anniversary gala Sept. 7. The event, which will occur on the E.J. Thomas Hall stage where Tuesday Musical concerts have taken place for 40 years, will conclude the organization’s 125th anniversary celebration year.
In retirement, Feld plans to stay in Akron and complete her presidency with the Akron Roundtable in the next six months. She also will take over as board president of the Akron Area Arts Alliance in January. She and Denis plan to visit their grandchildren in Boston and Baltimore more often, and she can’t wait to go to concerts, plays and movies.
Feld continually stresses that nothing can take the place of the thrill of a live performance. She also tells students that classical music isn’t everything, but it should be on the spectrum of their musical tastes.
“To have a really full and complete life, the arts have to be a part of that,’’ she said.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.