Pianist Lynne Wilby was in her 30s when for the first time she listened to a cassette recording of her mother playing her composition “Tone Poem.”
“It had to be the most beautiful thing I ever heard,” Wilby said. “I was just crying, crying.”
Afterward, Wilby was miffed with her mother for never having taught her to play the song and asked her why she hadn’t.
Her mother, an accomplished pianist (she had played New York’s Carnegie Hall) was by nature modest, saying only, “Oh, I’m so glad to know you liked it.”
This Sunday, in a free White Fund concert dedicated to the people of the Merrimack Valley, Wilby will play “Tone Poem.” She’ll also play two others by her mother and assorted classical selections, including those by Bach, Chopin and Gershwin.
The hourlong concert, at Lawrence Public Library, is dedicated to healing — and music’s integral role in it.
It comes in the wake of gas explosions this past September that claimed the life of Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence. The explosions forced thousands of people from their homes and the loss of utilities for extended periods, incurring hardship for many people and businesses.
The concert series’ art director, Terri Kelley, a pianist and music instructor, said that the concert selections evoke emotions associated with the gas disaster. There is the loss, the shock, the darkness, and then the recovery and a restoration of hope, even joy.
The concert opens with “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” by Ted Cornell, based on “Ode to Joy.” The concert ends with three American jazz numbers by Gershwin, upbeat tunes that fly off the keys.
In between is plenty of Chopin, including his “Prelude in E minor,” a delicate exploration of pain, before moving to a playful Chopin waltz, “Grande valse brillante.” Also on the list is the first movement from a Bach song, “Italian Concerto.”
To Wilby, the Bach concerto is a picture of life. She associates the German composer’s music with healing.
“That entity of music, I can’t explain it,” Wilby said. “It just helps.”
Wilby has been playing piano since she was 3 years old and was taught by her grandmother Laura, who in 1915 started the LeVeille Virtuoso School of Piano and Violin in the Tower Hill section of Lawrence.
Sunday’s concert comes courtesy of a grant from the White Fund, which, for more than a century, has promoted education and culture in the Valley, especially through its lectures and concerts earmarked for working people.
The White Fund, Wilby and Kelley all share deep Lawrence roots and have a place in its musical family tree.
The White Fund presents accessible classical music that is soothing and healing and heartwarming, said Kelley, who grew up in Lawrence and now lives in Andover.
This is the first of two White Fund concerts at the library this programming year. The second will be in April, featuring pianist Constantine Firehouse.
The series dates to 2006 when the White Fund partnered with the Catherine McCarthy Trust, said Jay Dowd, both a White Fund and Lawrence Public Library trustee.
The McCarthy Trust has since bowed out of the classical music series, but the White Fund has kept it alive, recruiting accomplished and enthusiastic players.
Dowd, 67, a retired high school English teacher who also grew up in Lawrence — and lived there until four years ago — said the White Fund originated with trust money set aside in 1852 from George Appleton White’s sale of Lawrence farmland to the Essex Corporation.
Additional trust dollars funded construction of the first Lawrence library, at the corner of Haverhill and Hampshire streets in 1892. The Steinway piano at the library, which Wilby will play, came as a gift from White Fund trustee Irving Sargent, and the fund paid for its $20,000 restoration.
“The musicians are happy to come; they love the piano, being able to play on that magnificent instrument,” Dowd said.
The piano is nicknamed “Immortal Beloved” by Kelley, who, by the way, took piano lessons from Wilby’s mother.
The beloved piano, which has 12,500 parts, was purchased in 1914 at Steinway’s New York headquarters. It settled in at various private homes until 1937 when it landed at the old WLAW radio station in Lawrence.
Wilby said she was excited to find out that her mother, Cecile, had played the Steinway as a little girl.
“It is the same piano,” Wilby said. “At 12 or 13, she played it, she played on that same piano.”
Wilby herself has played the 1914 Model A Steinway twice before.
“I love it,” Wilby said. “It has a beautiful touch, a really nice tone. Terrific for romantic era and impressionist music.”
Wilby grew up in Lawrence and worked for years at Malden Mills. She now lives in Kingston, New Hampshire, where she gives private lessons at her piano studio. She has been playing church services since 16 and is organist at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Brentwood.
Wilby will speak briefly before Sunday's concert and talk a little about each composer before playing their music.
That would include her mom’s “Tone Poem,” which starts out in a minor key, telling a story that hints at someone wandering, seeking their way.
The concert will also include an actual poem, written and read for the occasion by Shawna Bernard of North Andover.
Dowd hopes people of all ages from Lawrence and beyond attend Sunday’s concert, dedicated to healing.
“We hope that neighbors from Andover and North Andover and Methuen turn out to experience it,” he said. “This is something that all four communities can relate to on a very personal level.”
IF YOU GO
What: White Fund concert dedicated to the people of the Merrimack Valley, featuring pianist Lynne Wilby
When: Sunday, 2 p.m.
Where: Lawrence Public Library, 51 Lawrence St., Lawrence
How much: Free