The Pianist and I became part-time Jaffrey residents in 1986. One day that summer, we saw there was a concert in Peterborough, so we went and discovered something called Monadnock Music. The conductor was a man named James Bolle.
“I know him,” the Pianist told me. “He conducts the New Hampshire Symphony, and I played a concerto with the orchestra a few years ago.”
After the concert, Jim and Jocelyn Bolle invited us to a reception at the “Cheese Shop” across the street, and thus began a long and meaningful relationship that has continued over the years, in good times and bad.
We soon became part of Monadnock Music, I mostly as a listener, the Pianist as a recital soloist and chamber player. I began calling Jim “Maestro,” and he called me “Counselor,” which always made me think of my years trying to corral campers at various summer camps, including one in Hillsborough Upper Village.
In the mid-1960’s, Chicago-born Jim and Keene-born Jocelyn saw an opportunity, or perhaps a need or just an empty space, and they filled it. I’m sure there were concerts back then, but Monadnock Music brought the gift of music to this part of the state in a whole new way, beginning in Nelson in 1966 and quickly spreading to cities and towns throughout the county and beyond, and to the public schools as well. Village concerts were free of charge, and world-class musicians from all over the country, and at least one from Norway and a string quartet from New Zealand, came back year after year.
After a period of failing health, Jim died on April 14. And on Sunday August 25 a concert was held in his memory, fittingly in Nelson where it all began. Many of the Monadnock Music musicians from the ‘80’s and 90’s, including the Pianist, performed works by composers whom he liked. While listening, I read Jocelyn’s written recollection entitled “Opening Night at Monadnock Music,” which describes that long-ago beginning more than fifty years ago. She relates how two bikers showed up on Harleys, stayed to the end, and became front-row attendees for many years to come. I didn’t see any Harleys outside the Nelson Meeting House two weeks ago, but the bikers may well have been there in spirit.
Jim lived a life of the mind. Music and books were his constant companions. But it would be incomplete to leave it there. He was a “cultural activist,” a rebel with a cause.
Some of what he programmed was challenging to our ears, but Maestro Bolle had a purpose and nothing was going to deter him. Yes, he was willing to include Beethoven and Brahms and other composers whose music we may recognize, but he wanted us to know that contemporary music was important and worth our while as well. So Monadnock Music programs included such twentieth century composers as Virgil Thompson and Elliott Carter, and James Bolle himself. If the “new” wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, that didn’t bother him. A concert, as he saw it, wasn’t a popularity contest. It was about testing boundaries and forcing people out of their musical comfort zone.
Jim retired a decade or more ago, and the Bolles moved from Francestown to Harrisville, which is where I last saw him. He was struggling, barely able to get around, having difficulty speaking. “Maestro,” I asked, “Are you still having fun?”
“Yes,” he answered.
I wanted to know more and asked him.
“I listen to music,” he told me.