GREAT BARRINGTON — Can you imagine life in the Berkshires without the ever-effervescent Hilda Banks Shapiro? Neither do I.
But she left us on August 17 and cycled in her red Converse tops to join Schubert and Brahms instead. She will also be on the lookout for FDR, Mother Teresa and Clark Gable.
An irrepressibly positive personality who radiated goodwill to all, even Republicans, Hilda had her fingers in many pies when not on the keyboard, from the Egremont Garden Club to the Mason Library, Sheffield Kiwanis to Great Barrington Tree Committee – she loved trees above all else, even dogs. She established scholarships to Monument Mountain Regional High School in memory of her sons Mitchell and Samuel (nine of her children graduated from Monument), and another to Berkshire School in memory of Terry Pines, with whom Hilda co-founded Barrington Performing Arts Inc.
On the piano keyboard, Hilda was everywhere: at Berkshire Music School, where she taught from 1970 to 2004 and was a founding member of the Linden Trio; she helped organize the Octoberzest music and March Hare dance festivals at Simon’s Rock College, where she accompanied student singers in their recitals; and playing piano in countless musicals at Monument Mountain and Mount Everett High Schools and Berkshire School.
Born in Boston on December 19, 1926, and raised in nearby Dorchester and Brookline, Hilda attended local schools until fourth grade, then was tutored while she studied piano, first with Leonard Shure, a former child prodigy, then the famous – and intimidating – Arthur Schnabel, whose other students included Leon Fleisher, who was two years younger than Hilda.
In 1942, at age 15, Hilda received a scholarship to the Berkshire Music Center, now Tanglewood. That summer she twice performed the Piano Concerto no. 1 in G minor, accompanied by the Berkshire Music Center Orchestra under the baton of Frederick Fennell and the young Lucas Foss.
The following year Hilda made her professional solo debut at Jordan Hall in her native Boston, and in 1946, a month before her 20th birthday, she made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall in New York – a concert that she performed again 50 years later. at the Berkshire School of Music. Then it was off to Europe, where, with Schuman, Brahms and Chopin on the menu, Hilda performed successfully in London, Paris, Amsterdam and The Hague.
A promising career lay ahead. But our Hilda had other plans.
“Cheaper by the Dozen”
At 13, she had read the novel “Cheaper by the Dozen” and told her parents that she would one day have 12 children. Enter Leonard Shapiro, a jeweler and refugee from the Free City of Danzig who also loved music. (Shapiro was a gold and platinum smelter whose work would later be commissioned by the Vatican.) The couple married in 1948 and eventually moved to Litchfield, Connecticut, with Leonard working in New York during the week.
In time, Hilda had her dozen – Andre, Mark, Mitchell, Serena, Jonathan, Jason, Kari, Claudia, Samuel, David, Miriam and Stephanie – all born at Danbury Hospital in 19 years via the same GP.
In 1972 the family bought Broadmeadow, a 130-acre dairy farm in Great Barrington, along with 50 Holsteins for milk and a Jersey named Bathsheba for butter. It sounded fun to Hilda, and for the next three years the woman who had been the toast of Europe rose at dawn to squeeze the udders on behalf of the HP Hood company.
Exit Leonard Shapiro, all of a sudden. Hilda – left with 10 children, little money and no car – got by, starting with babysitting at $1 an hour per child. She then formed a quartet, A Taste of Honey (with children David, Miriam and Stephanie), which performed at weddings and other occasions. Soon Hilda was playing the piano all over the Berkshires and hitchhiking, often with children in tow, to her gigs.
And to think that none of this would have ever happened without Harold.
Who is Harold, you ask? Jan Hutchinson from South Egremont tells the story in the liner notes of the only CD Hilda has ever made – aged 89:
“Hilda’s love of music began under her family’s piano, where she lay listening to her brother trying to master ‘The Waltz of the Flowers.’ One day, from the kitchen, his mother finally heard a beautiful rendition of the waltz and shouted, “Now you have it, Harold!”
” ‘But Mom !’ he shouted back. ‘It’s not me playing, it’s Hilda!’ Hilda was 4 years old.
In the last year of her life, Hilda broke a hip and then, in her own way, overcame the effects of two blows until her massive heart finally gave out one August morning. Little surprise that a few hours later, after days and days of drought, it rains on his garden at Broadmeadow Farm, not far from Mitchell’s white pick-up truck.
Farewell, lovey (or, if you prefer, poopsie), with love and gratitude from all of us.