Listening to and eating with the Farm House Quartet: In music and in food, it’s always important to try something new

  • Partners Maggie Speier, viola, and Roy Lewis, violin, have organized an occasional string quartet called the Farm House Quartet. The other two members are violinist Masako Yanigita of Charlemont and New York City, and cellist Mark Fraser of Montague. PHOTO BY TINKY WEISBLAT

  • Composer Alice Parker, 97, composed one of the pieces that the quartet read through. PHOTO BY TINKY WEISBLAT

  • I designed this end-of-summer salad for the gathering. I took advantage of the season’s bounty — tomatoes and corn in particular — and threw in a little kick with a chipotle-cheddar dressing. I called it Kitchen Sink Chopped Salad because it included food items I happened to have in the house. I’m thinking of renaming it Farm House Quartet Salad, however. PHOTO BY TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder
Published: 9/26/2023 2:49:56 PM

I wrote a couple weeks ago about my lifelong love of chamber music, particularly as offered by Mohawk Trail Concerts. I had music classes in school, too, of course, but I have learned most over the years from watching musicians perform live.

In the past couple of years, I have been privileged to observe and learn from a slightly different, more intimate type of musical performance.

My part-time neighbors, Maggie Speier and Roy Lewis, have organized an occasional string quartet. The two are musicians who have been married for decades. Maggie plays the viola; Roy, the violin.

Looking for a little fun and extra practice, they recruited two other musicians, violinist Masako Yanigita of Charlemont and New York City and cellist Mark Fraser of Montague, to read through string-quartet literature.

We neighbors quickly learned that they were doing this, and the readings turned into impromptu performances for a small audience. The quartet was formed in the house in which Maggie and Roy stay, known as the Farm House, and so we named it the Farm House Quartet.

Lately, they have been performing in the building behind the Farm House, known as the Play House. They played there a couple of weeks ago on Labor Day.

This welcoming space was built almost 100 years ago by the father of our neighbor, Alice Parker, as a play room for his children. It is now used for parties.

The Play House is an ideal spot for listening to music. It is a large, airy, rectangular room.

Alice’s late brother, Harrison, spent many years in Indonesia and brought back rattan chairs and lanterns to give the Play House a magical feeling. It has huge windows that open out to provide ventilation. The cross breezes were welcome over Labor Day, when the weather was decidedly steamy.

The quartet read through two pieces that afternoon. One was by Alice Parker herself, who was present. Now 97, she composed it in 1988 for the Manhattan String Quartet, of which Roy was then a member. It apparently turned up recently in her files, and Roy decided it was time to revive the piece.

Alice waxed a little critical listening to her piece for the first time in decades.

She said it proved that she had had too much musical education and had believed in 1988 that dissonance was a musical necessity.

The piece was indeed quite different from much of her other work. Most musicians know Alice as a composer of choral works and a strong advocate for the importance of melody. Not unsurprisingly, there was melody amid the dissonance, and the piece won us all over.

The other music the quartet chose to read was a work in E flat by Felix Mendelssohn. Roy, the explainer-in-chief for the Farm House Quartet, noted that Mendelssohn wrote it in tribute to Ludwig van Beethoven.

Mendelssohn was 16 years old when he composed the piece, Roy told us.

Yikes. I tried not to think of my own immaturity at 16 … and mostly succeeded.

After the music concluded, the musicians and neighbors shared a pot-luck meal. Alice herself maintains that all musicians are good cooks. She should know.

Alice is renowned not just for her musical compositions but for her culinary ones, particularly her aromatic fresh bread.

The food on our Labor Day communal table included beef, chicken and bean burgers; Mark’s locally sourced meatballs; baba ghanoush; and the squash latkes about which I wrote two weeks ago.

I designed the end-of-summer salad below for the event. I took advantage of the season’s bounty — tomatoes and corn in particular — and threw in a little kick with a chipotle-cheddar dressing.

I called it Kitchen Sink Chopped Salad because it included food items I happened to have in the house. I’m thinking of renaming it Farm House Quartet Salad, however.

I’m grateful to the quartet for sharing their gifts. I do of course enjoy listening to polished musical performances elsewhere. There’s something extra special about seeing seasoned musicians read through works as the quartet does for us, however.

Maggie, Roy, Masako and Mark often stop to try a passage again to get things just right. They laugh about the challenges of each piece. Their performance is open and engaging.

Watching and listening to them gives us listeners a chance to witness the actual creation of the music. Throw in a little food at the end of that creation, and you have an ideal musical experience.

Kitchen Sink Chopped Salad


for the dressing:

1/2 cup grated store cheese (extra-sharp Cheddar)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

the juice of 2 limes (about 3 tablespoons)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 canned chipotle chili in adobo with some juice from the can (more if you like spice)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

ground pepper to taste

for the salad:

4 cups lettuce, in small pieces

2 cups lightly cooked corn kernels (grill the corn with a little olive oil if you have time; otherwise, use leftover corn)

2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1 avocado, cut into chunks

4 scallions, chopped (use the white part and some of the green)

cilantro or parsley for garnish (optional)


Combine the dressing ingredients in a blender, and puree the mixture. Place the salad ingredients (except for the cilantro or parsley) in a large bowl, add the dressing, and toss. Sprinkle herbs over all if you feel like it.

Serves 4 to 6 at a regular supper or at least 8 at a pot luck.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning cookbook author and singer known as the Diva of Deliciousness. Visit her website,


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy