Some years ago, I interviewed a music historian from London for a story on movie soundtracks. By way of introduction, I explained that I was from White Plains, a suburb of New York City.
“Oh, I know White Plains,” he said brightly. “It was the home of Percy Grainger.”
It was indeed the home of Percy Grainger, the Australian-born pianist, composer and arranger who may best be remembered today for his settings of such folk tunes as “Country Gardens” but who was really much more than that. His gabled, brown-shingled house, where he lived from 1921 to ’61, stands amid parking garages and doctors’ offices on Cromwell Place. And there it might sit unheralded save for the plaques from the National Register of Historic Places and the Westchester County Historical Society – and for the persistence of Stewart Manville, a keeper of the flame if there ever was one.
Manville first heard Grainger play in 1941 – the same year he heard another gifted pianist-composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff.
“They both had an assertive way of playing,” says Manville, adding that Rachmaninoff is buried at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla. (Manville is the kind of guy who knows literally where all the bodies are buried.)
Grainger – who shared the house first with his mother, Rose, and then with his wife, the artist Ella Ström — was buried in his native Australia. Through a mutual acquaintance, Manville met Grainger’s widow and began helping her sort through her husband’s things a half-century ago. Eventually, the two married and since her death in 1979, Manville has carried on alone as curator, archivist and guardian of the memory of the man who was his wife’s first husband.
If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
And that’s what this issue is about, although our theme is ostensibly about living with history in the great public and private houses of WAG country.
But there can be no great house without great love and the great people who provide it, buttressing these places with their bucks, their sweat, their “what was I thinking but I just can’t help it” passion.
In this issue, you’re going to meet a lot of new people, including Waggers “Diva” Debbi O’Shea, who’ll help you shop; Sarah Hodgson, our pet whisperer; and finance goddess Carol E. Curtis, who takes a break from business reporting to poke around WAG country.
But mostly, you’re going to meet people like our cover guy, Moby, who’s also making music with his camera and computer keyboard – writing an architecture blog and restoring his ’20s Hollywood home, which once belonged to Brando.
He and the others you’ll encounter have made a commitment to the past and in so doing, have found a present and a future.