Pine Avenue has been receiving a lot of local attention as the Pine Avenue Development Group has brought new businesses to this main street of Anna Maria City. Although the businesses are new, the intention of the developers is to preserve the feeling of Old Florida as well as the integrity of the business district, which was at risk of being converted to newly constructed rental housing units.
Meanwhile, there are a few places on Pine Avenue that are truly historical, and most obvious is Roser Memorial Community Church. Now celebrating its 100th year, this beautiful institution continues to serve the community in ways that reach beyond denominations and even beyond church affiliation of any kind.
Music being presented at the church in this season’s concert series is sublime, regardless of one’s beliefs. The first performance, on January 20, featured pianist Davide Cabassi, a finalist in the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. A fine Steinway concert grand piano was rented by the church and, in its elevated position, could be easily seen by the audience, which filled all the pews. The acoustics were impressive.
Mr. Cabassi opened his program with Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major, K. 331. A long first movement of a lyrical theme and variations introduced the audience to the brilliant sound of an excellent instrument, as well as to the performer’s expertise. The audience displayed its own expertise as listeners, by not applauding after the first movement, as uneducated audiences have been known to do even in places supposedly much more sophisticated than Anna Maria. After another gentle movement, a Menuetto, the intensity finally started to pick up in the third movement, Allegretto, “Alla Turca.”
With the second piece, Liszt’s B Minor Piano Sonata, the intensity hit maximum peaks and Mr. Cabassi displayed both his virtuosity and endurance. After a standing ovation and intermission, he returned to the stage with his beautiful wife, who wore a flame-red gown, adding to the drama of the Dvorak Eight Slavonic Dances, Opus 46, which they performed together. These four-hand pieces are particularly challenging because of all the tempo changes, and the unity of the couple was impressive. Two encores followed and the audience then emerged from the church as the six-o’clock bells chimed and the buildings of Pine Avenue were bathed in the warm rays of the setting sun. Religion, or no religion, those who attended had been transported to some kind of heaven.
Roser’s concert series for this season also includes, on February 17, the ragtime/boogie-woogie piano of Bob Milne, who performs over 250 concerts a year, worldwide. Then, on March 9, the Sarasota Chorus of the Keys and quartet will perform at the church.
In this way, Roser Memorial Community Church continues to serve the “community” in its name. It also is a beautiful tribute to the wife of John Roser, in whose memory he built the church, in 1913.
As explained by Carolyne Norwood in her book Anna Maria Island the Early Days 1893 – 1940, John Roser and his son, Charles, had established a large candy and cracker company in Ohio. Their Fig Newton was so popular that Nabisco bought the recipe for a million dollars in 1910. Charles Roser was a member of the Anna Maria Beach Company. His father had retired in St. Petersburg. They discussed the possibility of building a church in Anna Maria, and when John’s wife, Caroline, passed away, he decided to proceed, in her memory.
One hundred years later, life on Anna Maria Island is enriched by the vision of people like the Rosers, and by the hard work of those who have kept the church vital through all the ups and downs of the last century.