Friday, August 31, 2018

Tippet Rise 'piano man' keeps wealth of instruments in tune

  Michael Toia is the full time piano tuner at Montana's acclaimed Tippet Rise Art Center.
He keeps the priceless piano collection in top form. Here he tunes the writer's upright
on a rare day off. Veteran fisherman Toia combined tuning with a fishing trip!


Eyes and ears alert, Toia prepares a piano for a concert.

EACH MORNING, when Michael Toia wakes up, he pinches himself.
"I feel so fortunate to be in this beautiful place, doing something I love," says the gentle spoken piano tuner, avid fisherman and nature lover.
Toia is in Montana this summer, as he has been for all three season at Tippet Rise Art Center near Fishtail.  He is charged with keeping the Center's priceless collection of Steinways in tune to be played to a privileged small audience each weekend by world class musicians.
Master tuner, Michael Toia, is at work in the Tiara Acoustic Shell,
an outdoor concert venue at Tippet Rise. Each concert signals a tuning.
For Toia, it's a dream come true. His two passions -- pianos and fishing -- are fulfilled each summer. Based at the acoustically praised art center --  acclaimed for its setting, repertoire and large sculpture -- Toia fell into "the perfect gig," as he calls it, by the proverbial "right place at the right time."  And location.
Toia at work in the Olivier Music Barn at Tippet Rise.
"I was asked by the Halsteads (center founders Peter and Cathy) to tune one of their pianos in Hawaii, where I live" says Toia.  "They asked if I'd be interested in coming to Montana. It worked out."
THE BIG ISLAND of Hawaii is Toia's home for nine months of the year, as he tunes pianos for a living, flying from one island to the other for jobs.  His largest client is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the Mormon Church -- whose history in the islands dates back to 1850.  Their Polynesian Cultural Center is one of many Mormon owned and operated venues. Toia tunes all their pianos and takes on the occasional additional client.
Michael Toia casts off on the West Fork 
of the Stillwater.  He is an avid fisherman.
His wife Anne Toia, is a successful massage therapist and their son, Mika'ele, is a proud second-generation piano tuner based in Minneapolis.  Occasionally, father and son collaborate on a tuning project, as recently when the elder Toia and Anne flew to Minneapolis where the Minnesota Orchestra is one of Mika'ele's clients.
The couple raised their son and daughter on the big island, where Mount Kilauea's damage is testing their fortitude.  Smoke and fall-out from the volcano, and nearby destruction of homes and hotels, has the couple re-evaluating their future -in their beloved Hawaii.
For now, they're waiting Kilauea out.

With the deftness of a surgeon, Toia repairs
and replaces the felt on a pad.

ONE THING is sure, though.  As long as Toia is asked back to Montana, he will continue tuning the Tippet Rise pianos. Whenever he has a free day -- which is rare -- he is off fishing south-central Montana's prime rivers and streams. Fish, tour or tune, pianos are part of his world all 12 months of the year.
When he returns each season to Tippet Rise, he has the world's finest pianos literally at his practiced fingertips.
"Because Steinway grand pianos are crafted by hand, it can take a year -- hours and hours of fine-tuned labor -- to make one," he says. "Tuning an instrument of that precision and quality is equally demanding."  That painstaking, several-hour process pays homage to the craftspeople who came before.
Toia says Tippet Rise is a treasure trove of Steinways: a dozen of them, each extraordinary, "each with its own nuances and attributes." (For more information on the stable of Tippet Rise pianos, check out the essays written by TR co-founder, Peter Halstead.)
WE HAD THE good fortune to spend a half-day at our home with Toia, who offered to tune our vintage Boston-made McPhail.  Watching him is to watch a master at work.  With the skill of a surgeon, he tunes, listens, repairs.  He apprenticed this column's photographer, contracting engineer Bruce Keller, to assist -- providing additional tools from his elaborate workshop.
Piano tuner Michael Toia in inspiring to watch at work.
Our McPhail may not have as many parts as the 12,000 Steinway has.  But Toia pronounced it "a jewel" and urged us to hang on to it. (It is one of seven pianos in my collection, modest compared to the grand assemblage at Tippet Rise, which includes an instrument once owned by acclaimed classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz.
Toia, who plays piano himself, but rarely for an audience, says he is inspired by the unique blending of nature, music and art at Tippet Rise. Waking up in a cabin designed for him by the Halsteads, surrounded by the world's finest pianos -- and abundant trout streams --  is, Toia says, "about the best gig a guy could have."
Pianos, he added, are something like people in their complexity -- "each one is different.  Peter says each piano has its own DNA. He's right."
Toia doesn't usually tune pianos outside Tippet Rise in Montana, but should you need a tune-up in Hawaii, look for Michael Toia Piano Service. More on the Tippet Rise pianos at:

Harvey's in Lake Tahoe offers elegant furnishings, proximity to gambling
and fine dining, and spectacular scenery out the window. More next week.
UP NEXT: Take a scenic weekend ride with us to Harvey's, a lovely property on beautiful Lake Tahoe, where the scenery is exquisite all year -- summer to autumn, winter to spring.  Now's the transition time from warm-weather sports to skiing and snowboarding, with the first snows possible in September -- any time after Labor Day, the old timers say.  Remember to explore, learn and live, and wake up with a view out the window and a song in your heart.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Art in the yard: metaphor for loss, love, landscape, family, continuum

High Chaparral in Montana is a family sanctuary, for it is filled with memories of happy times.  It also honors the memory
of family members who have "gone to the next camp." Above, a granite memorial with  names of  the deceased. At right,
 a bronze of Bruce Meyers. Left of that, a U.S. Army memorial for William Jones, Cookie's first and second husbands. 

Let us go then you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky
--From "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Elliot

Flowers, rocks placed by family members and a piece sign placed by
youngsters -- and left as they placed it, upside down. Part of the yard art. 


THE GARDEN and yard at High Chaparral, a mile above sea level in the Northern Rockies, embody our clan's love of nature, the arts and family. The setting represents my belief that love transcends death. When we love people, they remain with us -- in vivid memory and stories, photos, music, deeds.
"Saturn Doll" comes alive each summer at High Chaparral.  She is "dressed" by my 
clever niece,Midori Otokawa, whose  brother and sister are memorialized 
on the nearby granite wall. She is one of the angels in the garden.
We come here -- from thousands of miles away and many states -- to commune with one another, and feel close to our ancestors' spirits, to enjoy bountiful bird life, to revel in family, to soak up Montana's summer splendor.  I'm a devoted fourth generation Montanan.  The next two generations are fifth and sixth-generation Big Sky Country connections. Some were born here, most are Montanans by heart.
IN 1993 when I bought and expanded this 15 acres, I designed and commissioned a memorial for loved ones.  The year before, I'd commissioned a memorial on the campus of Montana State University-Billings, where my first husband, Bruce Kemp Meyers, taught creative writing and English for 25 years.
Befitting the birthday of a Leo (Cookie), this lion batik
stands sentinel in the High Chaparral garden.
I'd toyed with the notion of another memorial, one which would honor my beloved "Irish twin" sister Peny.  I chose her as the "dividing line" -- she passed away in 1986.  Her death would be the first memorialized.  To go back further would have meant many more names, then were to begin?
BECAUSE MY adored sister Peny was the first of our family to choose cremation, her passing seemed a good place to begin the homage. Her ashes rest here, along with the other seven.  Our grandparents, great grandparents and those who passed in centuries before, were buried -- in the tradition of  those times in western culture.
Antlers found on the grounds during walks up the mountain and along the
river make an artful welcome at the  back door.
The memorial also honors my parents, my two late husbands, my  youngest sister Robbie, whom I helped raise, and my tiny niece, Brooke, who died after only a day, borne into the next life in her Atlanta mother's arms. Her beautiful brother, Eric, is also honored. (He helped me set the memorial stones.) Eric was brutally murdered by a drug-crazy person who broke into his home on a sunny weekend morning. There is room for more brass plaques, although I hope not too soon.
THE MEMORIAL took shape quickly.  My dear friend, Corby Skinner, helped me choose the granite -- a hauntingly beautiful, calming grey-green-amber slab.  It came from the hills of South Africa, where I've visited. The artist who helped me build the memorial and plant the surrounding gardens is South African. So San Van Eeden's presence adds another dimension to this sacred spot in the Beartooths.
It is a sanctuary for me and many.
Cookie's music echoes through the canyon during memorials
and celebrations, held in the garden near the spirits.

A quote from T.S. Elliot's "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" is engraved on the granite top.
It captures the spirit this peaceful spot conveys.  Bruce Meyers taught the poem for a quarter-century. He loved "Prufrock" for its rich language, its revealing nature of the narrator's emotional state.  I like it because it sings.
Petunias, a family favorite, grace the
memorial and grounds.
It embodies a sense of mystery, it invites us to "come along" with Prufrock.  It ponders the inexorable nature of time, the brevity of life.
I SIT OFTEN on the bench by the memorial, pondering that elusive meaning of life, listening to the birds, watching the occasional bull snake slither peacefully through the perennials in search of a snack.
Rustic touches, such as a milk can from
the family's Beartooth Ranch of long
ago blend with contemporary art. 
Patrick Cosgriffe, a gifted potter as is his brother Rick Cosgriffe,
this whimsical self-portrait pottery piece, celebrating
 Christmas, his
daughter Christena and the rivers he loves to fish.
The memorial and its art -- all contributed by family and friends -- makes me happy, slows me down, helps me focus. I love it.
High Chap's beauty is enhanced by
construction engineer Bruce Keller. 

Cookie's recent birthday served as a good reason for the family reunion.
Above, part of the group gathered around the memorial for entertainment.

Expert piano tuner Michael Toia took a look at the writer's vintage upright.
He is an acclaimed piano tuner, and does that full-time at Tippet Rise.

UP NEXT:  The magic behind the perfectly tuned pianos at Montana's internationally acclaimed Tippet Rise Art Center is a soft spoken talent from Hawaii.  Michael Toia is a gifted tuner, known for his precision and capabilities.  He keeps the complement of Tippet Rise pianos in perfect harmony for each of the season's varied concerts.  How did he land this gig?  And what does he do in his rare spare time?  We'll share with you.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel look at art, travel, nature, music and travel.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Family reunion features music, laughter, food, tears, 88-year age span

Family reunion and birthday weekend for Cookie Meyers, center, featured 45 family and close friends for meals and music, and 20-plus popping in and out to share the celebration.  Here, the clan gathers from seven states and beyond.
The oldest member of the family-friend clan was 92 and the youngest four, for a span of 88 years -- like the piano's keys! 
 Cookie surrenders to the "getting ready" crew as nieces Amarylla and
Kira, right, fuss with make-up and a new hair do. Gifts were forbidden, so
people offered services, set-up, music, culinary talent, errands, expertise. 
Nephew Kenji as emcee helped engineer an afternoon of music,
stories, jokes on Cookie and a talent show including charades.


I'm thinking of "a picture is worth a thousand words."
Keller's photographs of my recent birthday weekend bash and family reunion are, as the Master Card commercial says, "priceless." So this column is long on photos. Permit me, please, a bit of prose.
In memory of two departed family, hats were worn to honor clan mother,
Ellen. A sculpture of Don Quixote stood sentinel, made by the late Bill Jones
From left, Christena Cosgriffe, Cookie, the sculpture and  Olivia Cosgriffe.
because we remember those who are absent. It is my belief that their spirits stay close.

MY PARTY was held near a memorial for family who have, as my Crow friends say, "gone to the other camp."
Brother Rick, sister-in-law Jane,nephew Steve singing. Rick
also wrote haiku, Jane sang and Steve, a chef, was invaluable.
This reunion was joyful because of recent family challenges:  illness, accidents, separations,  surgeries, the woes all families experience.  Because we are a large clan, we have more than most. On a happy note, we've also had a pair of weddings, college and high school graduations,  anniversaries and 
good medical reports. We focused on the "glass half full."
Two splendid cakes were made by my niece Aurora,
presented by nephew Orion and great-nephew Connor.
I wore one of my grandmother Olive's hats at the tribute.

THIS REUNION celebrated the goodness of our far-flung clan, our love for one another, the joy in renewing connections, reviving memories.  We've helped one another through the years -- and now we connected with music, poems, hair, make-up, clothes, toys, food, silliness and shared memories of joy and sorrow.

"You Are Our Cookie, Our Only Cookie,"
sing sisters Olivia and Misha, to the
tune of "You Are My Sunshine."

Virginia and Amarylla, from Arkansas and the Bay Area
have fun and joke a bit after the talent show.
Friend Corby Skinner presented a series of entertainment
based charades with Cookie's favorite theater themes.
The hammock Keller put up was a hit 
with the young great nieces, nephews.

Niece Amarylla, with kids Peny and
James, enjoy the weekend. Ama's
chef husband helped with the meals. 

IT WAS a weekend of smiles and sports, talking, singing, eating, reminiscing, playing games, catching up. My Atlanta niece and her New York chef boyfriend donned their aprons to create a dozen delicious side dishes, using Montana's summer bounty.  Two nieces -- from California and Oregon -- pampered me with a make-up and hair treatment. 
Tippet Rise capped the weekend.
Here, Cookie and Keller in "The Barn."
Food glorious food -- cakes by Aurora, artfully served by
friend Cristina and sister Olivia. Many hands made it work.

My Georgia nephew emceed the traditional family talent show party with wit and sweetness. My Mendocino nephew played an electric guitar borrowed from our musical veterinarian. My Montana niece made two stunning cakes. My two brothers penned tributes -- one a heartfelt essay, the other beautiful haiku. Dear Georgia relatives crafted a poem about my interviews and  travels. My late sister Peny's widower surprised me with vintage slides. Friend Corby devised clever charades. Our Arkansas "adopted kids" (cruise friends) sang and played. I wish I could list every name, but I love and appreciate every one of the 60-plus who contributed stories, photos, food, entertainment and tributes.  I love, love, love you all.

UP NEXT:  Art in the yard. Most of us have objects that mean something to us outdoors.  Our yard captures the interests, talents, losses and memories of the generations.  We take you inside and close-up to the pottery, flowers and memorabilia that dressed up the celebration -- and keep watch over the Montana place.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday when we post a novel look at travel, the arts, nature, family and adventure.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Tippet Rise offers stunning contemporary art, music on working ranch

Internationally known sculptor Mark Di Suvero 's brightly colored "Proverb" has a pendulum element that moves.
Happy after a recent concert, Bruce Keller, photographer, and Christene
"Cookie" Meyers stop near dusk at Tippet Rise.  An Alexander Calder
sculpture is in the far background, to welcome guests and salute the arts.



The art tour limo loads up in one of the Tippet Rise parking
lots. Small groups in a comfy Mercedes van enjoy the tour.  
THE APPROACH to Tippet Rise Art Center is through Montana's heartland.
This is cattle and sheep country.
Both of those safely graze in a landscape marked by harsh winters and blazing summers. A working ranch as well as internationally known arts venue, the land is tended as it has been for generations by people who know nature's wonders and cope with its sometimes  unforgiving twists.
DEER DART across the fields in search of summer grass to browse, and the bird life is extraordinary. Songs of sandhill cranes echo in the valleys while  hawks, eagles and dozens of smaller birds vie for attention.  Their music is a fitting prelude to extraordinary concerts held summer weekends in a small, European inspired concert hall, the multi-million dollar "Barn." There's an outdoor performance venue, too.
Yet the music is not the only attraction on the varied bill.
"Inverted Portal" by Ensamble Studio serves as shelter, sculpture and 
landscape. Each piece weighs over 200 tons and the largest cranes
in Montana were needed to hold the two sides in place for fastening. 
As one wends her way up the road from Fishtail, Montana, the terrain gives way to a surprise: could it be a sculpture by Alexander Calder? Indeed it is -- on loan from the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C.
The monumental piece greets visitors, one of two Calder works loaned to the Montana venue. The other is a lyrical mobile which hangs above the concert area in the Olivier Music Hall.
Christene "Cookie" Meyers, thrilled
to stand beneath a geologically
inspired piece of 400-ton art.
Tippet Rise offers tours of the
large art pieces on their 11,000
acre enterprise.  Each is placed
to harmonize with landscape.

Image may contain: house, sky, outdoor and nature

Parick Dougherty's "Daydreams" is made from willows and a replica
of a well used and loved structure. It is a popular attraction for visitors.
Alexander Calder's "Two Discs" greets Tippet Rise guests,
the first art they see, as it was for years at the Hirshhorn.
IT IS FITTING that contemporary masterpieces greet visitors headed for a concert.  The land was once home to impressionist artist Isabelle Johnson who like the center's creators, lived in many worlds, traveling to Paris, returning to her roots. Connecting art, music and landscape is the goal of Tippet Rise founders,  philanthropists Peter and Cathy Halstead.  They have accomplished this with imagination, flair and artistic sensibility.
"We wanted sculptures that fit the land, to annotate the music, connect with the sky, illustrate the sense of working with the land," says Peter Halstead, a musician, poet and collector of 17 of the world's finest pianos, many housed in state-of-the-art facilities at Tippet Rise. Cathy Halstead, an accomplished artist, contributed her own flair and contacts with the art world to complement her husband's talents in their remarkable achievement.
Stephen Talasnik's "Satellite No. 5: Pioneer" incorporates the need to
explore space, and the crucial component of connecting to land and roots.
TIPPET RISE embodies a medley of the couple's affections -- love of landscape, travel and classic music, with a significant nod to contemporary art. In fact, the couple considers their unique arts and music venue  a metaphor, "where the synergy among music, landscape, sky and art makes....a kind of poetry," says Peter.
A TOUR IS recommended. Knowledgeable guides enhance the two-hour venture, which stops at a half-dozen pieces of art, with short hikes to get closer and take photographs.
We toured in a comfy Mercedes van, with two other couples.  Advance reservations are necessary, and you'll want to arrive in plenty of time to get your tokens and head for the parking lot to meet your group and guide. There are also tours to focus on the center's extraordinary geological history and wonders.

Happy Cookie in center with nieces and nephews, siblings, friends, relatives
and loved ones from all over the United States, celebrating her birthday.
UP NEXT:  Celebrate family with us, when we present a short essay -- long on photos -- on the value of family and the bonds of clan and friendship. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a new post.


Friday, August 3, 2018

Travel tips: Pack a perfect carry-on, limit baggage, plan ahead, be safe

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers atop the Space Needle in Seattle, planning their time there and another
few tickets in the drawer.  On the road for several months a year, they plan ahead and map out details to maximize time.

"Layering up" is good advice for travel almost anywhere in the world, here
in mid-autumn in a tiny village in Provence. (Cool morning, sun at midday.)


If you plan a little in advance, and take time to book a few
dinners, sidetrips and tours, you'll save precious time.
WE TRAVEL A LOT. And we have a division of labor, as most  couples do. He's in charge of electronics. I pack the reservations and confirmations, itinerary and contact numbers. If you're going abroad, decide where the passports and other critical documents will reside. Make sure you both know the location. Copy passports and important contact information in an additional place. Give a neighbor or family member your itinerary and contact information.
THERE ARE many styles, many methods of packing. Invent your own, remembering that it's important to be able to carry all your own stuff. You can't always find help at the train station, car rental, or getting out of the airport.
These tips will ease travel stress, whether you're a single traveler, couple or group.
First, the carry-on.  Even on a road trip, have a little easy-to-carry bag with things you can't do without. This includes electronics (don't forget the charger for your phone) and medications.  I include a two-day sampling of my daily vitamins, just in case of unexpected delays.
Each of us packs a toothbrush, clean shirt or top, underwear. I also carry eye drops and hand lotion (under three ounces) in carry-on, for long dehydrating flights. An empty water bottle is handy, too.
Keller's luggage (and Cookie's) are easy to spot.
YEARS AGO, I was traveling in Asia with an older attorney friend as part of an American delegation of professional women. Virginia had bee traveling for years and had a rule of one large check-through bag and a loosely packed carry-on.  I follow Virginia's example, and it lightens the physical and mental load. She also tossed out pamphlets and brochures along the way, cleverly avoiding exceeding her baggage weight limit with redundant paper.
WHEN WE travel with the Yorkies, Nick and Nora are my carry-on, so I've learned to economize on "stuff." Keller and I also put some of each of our items in both check-through bags.  That way, if one is lost for a couple days, we still have enough to get by in the shared bag.
As for clothes, the point is to take things that make you comfortable, that allow you to have fun, relax and feel properly turned out -- whether for fancy or casual time.
Take time to "smell the roses" and savor each moment,
here on sunny Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.
For a cruise, I pack a nice formal top but I no longer haul long formal gowns and sequined shoes, and Keller doesn't take tuxedo gear anymore. (Those formal guy tux shoes and glittery girl heels are space hogs, and the black-tie gear gets worn only once or twice.  Most cruise lines now don't insist on a tux; a sport coat or dinner jacket is sufficient. Nice dressy slacks or skirt and a cocktail top are fine for women.) Deciding on your attire really depends on what you do when you're there. Develop a theme before you go.  Are you "outdoorsy, active, casual" or "formal, fancy, elaborate" -- or like me, somewhere in between. This little categorization will help you craft a wardrobe that won't waste suitcase space. For example: If you're hiking in Scotland, Spain or
Cruising can be fun and dressy, without depleting the suitcase space.
Here, Cookie, far right, enjoys a European cruise with niece Amarylla,
mother Ellen Cosgriffe and sister Robbie Cosgriffe Townsley.
Switzerland, or sunning in the Caribbean or Greek Isles, you'll need little more than casual -- cottons, denims, wash-and-wear. Throw in a pretty top and shawl for dinners out. The "layer up" edict is time honored. Start a cruise or tour morning with slacks, shirt, sweater and light jacket tossed over your arm. Strip away the lawyers as the sun warms the Earth. Friends of ours also take their oldest underwear abroad and toss them as the trip winds down.
Keep some money in your bra or money belt -- as Cookie did in Vietnam.
You may still have to fumble a little (I always do) but it is handy.
CHECKING IN to the hotel: We immediately put the phone number and address in our phones.  You may also ask to see the room before you finalize check-in, particularly if you have paid hundreds of dollars. Find out about public transportation at the concierge desk.  Ask prices so you're not surprised when you purchase tickets. Make sure you get the wifi password before you head to your room, and be wary of using free wifi at public places.  Have the porter bring ice -- or if no ice machines, ask him to order it from room service. (Much faster than ordering it yourself.)
Before you relax in your hotel room, a few quick things will
make your stay more pleasant. Here, Pan Pacific Seattle.
Make a little check-list tailored to your own trip. Notify credit cards before you go of your plans, so they don't deny a charge that looks suspicious. Use your room safe for your passport, if the front desk hasn't taken it at registration. Carry a copy when you leave the hotel. Put some cash in your bra or money belt. We also divide credit cards and cash so someone always has some.  Put some cash and a credit card in the hotel safe or a secret stash in case your purse or wallet is stolen or lost.
ABOVE ALL, if you've thought of treating a relative to a vacation, do it now. Carpe diem. You'll never be sorry.

Christene "Cookie" Meyers stands under The Inverted Portal, one of three
sculptures at Tippet Rise created by internationally known Ensamble Studios.