Swinging a bow, not a hammer, to build housing

Linden Hills cellists celebrate their marriage with a Habitat for Humanity charity concert

Forget an expensive dinner and a bottle of champagne; on Sunday, Oct. 17, Tony Ross and Beth Rapier will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary with a little work.

The two Linden Hills cellists will perform in "Harmony for Habitat," a benefit chamber music concert they organized for Habitat for Humanity, at St. John's Episcopal Church.

The musicians, who normally play with the Minnesota Orchestra, have two children, 12-year-old Erin and 8-year-old Eli. Between their home and professional lives, Ross and Rapier said they find it very difficult to give back to their community. They feel especially guilty about not contributing to efforts organized by their neighbors and friends, such as Don Hawkinson, who has gathered local Habitat for Humanity crews for years.

The volunteer construction workers frame, roof and plaster alongside the family members who will eventually live in their new Habitat for Humanity home.

However, Ross and Rapier have good reason for not hammering along, "The last thing I want to do is pound a finger," Ross said.

Thus, a benefit concert is a way for the busy couple to give back while doing what they love. In fact, this is their third such benefit at St. John's, 4201 Sheridan Ave. S. About seven years ago, they coordinated a concert for a healthcare for the homeless program, and a couple years they performed for Children's Home Society to raise scholarship money for people who want to adopt but can't afford the high fees. ("Not only wealthy people should be able to adopt," noted Rapier.)

In years past, the concerts have raised just under $10,000 each for their respective causes. The couple hopes to approach that figure again this year, and promises that the $25 to $50 tickets are well worth it, not only for the good cause, but because they are certain their music "will touch everybody there," Ross said.

Pair at play

Rapier and Ross met as undergraduates at Indiana University, renowned for its music program. The two were friends for three years before having their first official date. (Rapier hadn't been too keen on Ross' crowd; Ross laughed and understandably described his college cadre as "sort of a jock quartet.")

Just after playing together at a Florida music festival the two "sat on a dock in Sarasota Bay," "watched the fish jump," "and talked about music and teachers -- the things music students talk about," said the couple in their characteristic tag-team manner.

Ross was then a senior; he left soon after to pursue a master's degree at the State University of New York (SUNY)-Stony Brook. Rapier, then a junior, came to Stony Brook a year later. However Ross made it clear that she came for the excellent cello teacher, "not just him."

However, a couple years, a wedding and several less-than-perfect jobs later, Ross followed Rapier to Minneapolis after she took a position with the Minnesota Orchestra in 1986.

At first, Ross freelanced, playing gigs and teaching lessons as he could, until another cello position opened with the Orchestra and he joined in 1988. Now, Ross and Rapier have progressed to become Principal and Assistant Principal respectively, both coveted positions.

While the couple loves the base the Orchestra provides and being part of its, as Ross puts it, "big massive sound," they equally love the quieter, more intimate style of chamber music.

They note, however, that there are few opportunities to make a living playing chamber music. This is due, in part, to the nature of the form, as it is best suited to cozy surroundings, such as St. John's -- and smaller audiences are less profitable.

However, for a small benefit concert such as this, the intimate surroundings heighten the appeal. The performance hall holds about 300 people -- but if the $25 and $50 (reserved) tickets sell out, Ross noted, they can always "seat a few more people on the stage."

The smaller-group format -- often a cellist or two, plus a pianist or violinist -- also affords each musician more opportunity for individual expression. This freedom also comes with the need for more interplay among the musicians themselves.

"When someone changes something," "not necessarily a note, but a timing perhaps -- something subtle," "it can change everything [that comes after it]," "it's hard to explain," the couple said, again taking turns and building off one another's comments.

Such compensating and team effort is what it's all about. "If you're not willing to adjust, what's the point?" Rapier noted -- unintentionally making the connection between playing and staying together crystal clear.

The inner circle

The couple will kick off the small concert with a lively Vivaldi "Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor" that they describe as celebratory.

After the musical frolic, the couple will perform a piece that is closer to their hearts which they describe as incredibly romantic -- so much so that Ross wouldn't play it with anyone else because "it would feel like cheating," he said.

The piece, a "Suite for Two Cellos and Piano," is one of the lesser-known works of Giancarlo Menotti, who is mostly known for his operas, such as "Amahl and the Night Visitors."

After Rapier, Ross and the pianist, Jeffrey Sykes, played the Menotti suite at a Texas music festival, a woman approached them. She said she was baffled to find that at the end of their performance, her face was all wet; she'd been crying but was too wrapped to notice before the music ended, Rapier recalled.

Ross said moments like this support his faith in the longevity of classical music. "It touches people in a deeper way [than popular music]," he said. "It's hard to explain . . . "

Tickets to the Sunday, Oct. 17, 3 p.m. "Harmony for Habitat" concert can be purchased at 922-9223.