Pensacola, Florida
Friday October 31st 2014

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New Name, Same Spirit

By Jessica Forbes

Upon learning that the Rolfs Classical Piano Series was ending, Sid and Jeannie Kamerman didn’t long debate whether to volunteer to keep the 25-year tradition alive. In fact, their decision was made in less than the span of one concert.

“We had a long discussion over this during intermission. That’s how long it took us to agree to this,” Sid recalled.

Before the final concert of the 2013 season, Don Snowden, head of the Performing Arts Department at Pensacola State College, announced that the performance would be the final of the Rolfs Classical Piano Series altogether. “Jeannie was horrified when Don announced that; she gasped,” Sid stated. While thinking it over during the first half of the show, Jeannie said the idea of sponsoring the series emerged.

“We had been looking for some way to give back to the community,” said Jeannie, who recognized the opportunity that the news presented. “I couldn’t have found a better match, something that would mean as much to us.”

The Kamermans, who have been active in Pensacola’s visual arts community for several decades, estimated they had been attending the Rolf’s series for at least five years. The series had become a “mainstay of our cultural season,” according to Jeannie, because of the quality of the musicians that performed. “Each person was better than the one before. It was uncanny the talent that they brought to our community.”

Taking action in and for the local arts community is nothing new for the Kamermans, who moved to Pensacola in 1979.

As a librarian at the University of West Florida, Jeannie brought her love of the visual arts and classical music to the Curriculum Materials Library, of which she became the director in 1996. There, Jeannie introduced Mozart Monday, playing the music of Mozart softly throughout the day, and its popularity resulted in the addition of Frederic (as in Chopin) Fridays.

Sid’s long-time affiliation with PSC’s Art Department was what eventually led the couple to discover the piano series. “I had been a perennial student at PJC/PSC from 1981 until after I retired from the car business, until 1997 or so,” Sid stated. Honing his craft over the years, Sid’s work as a sculptor won “Best in Show” at the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival in 2011, the same year Jeannie retired from UWF.

The couple was also active in Art on the Tracks and later Artel Gallery. Sid participated in the founding of Artel and is a Lifetime Sustaining Member, and Jeannie served on the board for three years. When speaking about the arts community in Pensacola, however, the two notable losses the couple mentioned both relate to performing arts.

“It was certainly a tragedy when we lost the Loblolly Theatre,” Jeannie said.

“We were there constantly,” Sid agreed. “That was a terrible loss. The plays were great, one after the other.”

Another significant loss the Kamermans noted was that of the Phillips Jazz Piano Competition, formerly held at the Saenger each April. “With the Phillips competition now no longer active, I miss the piano jazz,” said Jeannie of the event, which she hopes will return.

For their part, the Kamermans have saved at least one arts event from fading away. Snowden said he was not expecting the Kamermans — or anyone — to volunteer to keep the piano series going. “I thought it was going to end,” Snowden said. “I was really tickled when they came up to me after that show.”

Since the Kamermans acted so quickly, there was virtually no lag time between what Snowden thought would be the last season and the beginning of the newly introduced Kamerman series. “Once I got permission from the college to continue, we got right on it and booked some outstanding musicians.”

The first pianist in the new series was Pensacola native Mark Markham, who has played and taught internationally. The second was Svetozar Ivanov of the University of South Florida, and on Sunday the season concludes with a performance by Michael Gurt, an accomplished soloist who currently teaches at Louisiana State University among several other venues.

The Kamerman Piano Series, like the Rolfs Series before it, typically comprises three performances a season, which spans both semesters of PSC’s academic year. The most expensive ticket this season is $11, making the concerts an affordable opportunity to see world-class pianists play in Pensacola.

“We’re fortunate to be able to do it,” said Sid of he and Jeannie’s sponsorship of the series. Like Jeannie, Sid feels reluctant to pull focus from the music onto their roles. “They put our name on the program, and that was enough.”

“That was much more than enough,” Jeannie said. “People from the arts community have been very kind, very open with their ‘thank yous.’ It’s been lovely.”

KAMERMAN PIANO SERIES
WHAT: Final Performance of the 2013-2014 Season featuring Michael Gurt
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2
WHERE: Ashmore Fine Arts Auditorium, Building 8, 1000 College Blvd.
COST: $11 reserved admission, $9 for seniors and children, free for PSC students with current college ID.
DETAILS: 484-1847 or pensacolastate.edu/lyceum.