MOUNT DESERT — Something rather hush-hush is happening over toward the quieter side of the island. Without a lot of hoopla or fanfare, pianist Christina Spurling has started a new music festival based at the Somesville Union Meeting House.
Unlike the existing summer music festivals on Mount Desert Island, the Quietside Chamber Music Festival features a roster of Maine artists, such as Spurling herself, and its concerts are free.
Little Cranberry Island, with a year-round population of about 150 people, one village called Islesford, a two-room school house and an ongoing tradition of fishing and boatbuilding may seem like an unlikely place to spawn a music impresario.
As one of a handful of students attending the Islesford’s Ashley Bryan School, young Spurling did not have the advantages of an established music program — school band, show choir and such.
Then again, the mere name of the school is a good clue to how much the islanders value and nurture the creative talents among them. Ashley Bryan is an author, illustrator, poet, performer and artist who became an “adopted” son of the island some 50 or 60 years ago. In the early 20th century the island was home to a famed artists’ colony and, later, musical extravaganzas with world-class artists were held on the sloping lawns of summer residents.
So when Spurling, a descendent of the tenacious original settlers of Little Cranberry, discovered the beauty of classical music and showed an interest in producing those heavenly sounds herself, her parents Ted, a lobsterman, and Jeri, an architect, encouraged her.
“My mom made sure I got lessons and ferried out a number of different teachers to the island where I started learning when I was five, I think, on an old upright,” Spurling said.
“Since there weren’t a lot of kids my age on the island then, I didn’t have a lot of friends to lure me away from practicing.”
When Christina was 10, her mother realized that her daughter’s talent demanded a more challenging instructor, and she was ferried off island every Sunday to study with Lise Wallace. At 16 she added an hour-and-a-half drive to the ferry trip to study with Ginger Wallach at the University of Maine.
“I loved it all,” she recalls, “and when I was formally introduced to the rich repertoire of chamber music as an usher for the Mt. Desert Festival of Chamber Music, I knew I had found my musical home.”
Although Spurling can perform a righteous piano solo, she says she said she is naturally shy, and much more comfortable playing in an ensemble, rather than being front and center.
In 9th grade she was finally able to take advantage of MDI High School’s music curriculum, in the school’s band and orchestra. She also participated in the Russell Strings concerts in Southwest Harbor and the Kneisel Hall Youth orchestra in Blue Hill.
After graduating from MDIHS in 2006, Spurling continued her studies at Gordon College, a private Christian college in Wenham, Mass., and at the renowned Longy School in Cambridge, Mass., graduating with a teaching degree and a master’s degree in collaborative piano.
“I didn’t even know that degree existed,” she says. “It seemed like the perfect fit for me, where I could teach, accompany and play with different ensembles.”
Some teaching and performance gigs followed. Then, in 2017, the position of music director at the Somesville church opened up. She took that job, accompanying the hymns on piano and organ, directing the choir and occasionally inviting guest artists for musical Sunday services.
“The church and Victor [Stanley, the pastor] have been so supportive,” she said. “When I mentioned creating a small concert series, focusing on Maine-based musicians, local and off-season Bangor Symphony Orchestra members, for anyone who would like to attend, they were all for it.”
Rev. Stanley acknowledges that the late Jamie Hagedorn, who was the church’s music director for many years, was a hard act to follow, but says Spurling has risen to that challenge beautifully.
“To begin with, she is extremely talented,” he says. “She is a kind and gentle person who provides excellent music while maintaining a spirit of humility. She is also very well-connected in the music world, bringing the very best out of our choir, and she recruits some fabulous guest musicians. I couldn’t be happier!”
This year’s Quietside Chamber Music Festival includes six concerts, including a jazz evening with original pieces by local composer Daniel Fischer-Lochhead. She even joined the jazz ensemble on the piano for one piece, which she says was a fun challenge for her.
This coming Saturday, Aug. 17, at 7 p.m. she will be more in her element as a member of the new Quietside Quintet with Simone Bilyk and Chris Nemeth on violin, Caroline Curatolo on viola and Sarah Schreder on cello.
The series closes at a 3 p.m. matinee concert Sept. 8, with yet another home-grown talent, soprano Annie Leonardi, who recently performed in the opera “Carmen” at the Criterion and acting in Acadia Community Theater’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The music will not end come autumn. Spurling recently learned she has scored her dream job at Colby College teaching music and accompanying the school’s choir. And, she intends to be back in Somesville every Sunday to direct the musical programs there. And, oh yes, she also gives private lessons at the Ellsworth Community Music Institute.
It seems like a lot, but she is young and enthusiastic — and comes from generations of sturdy Cranberry Isles stock.
The Quietside concerts are free, but donations are accepted, most all of which go toward paying the musicians. Those who cannot attend but would like to support this effort are invited to send donations to: Quietside Chamber Music Festival, P.O. Box 358, Mount Desert, 04660.