116-year-old Steinway piano restored for Orem High School

2011-09-18T00:25:00Z 2011-09-18T10:38:17Z 116-year-old Steinway piano restored for Orem High SchoolCaleb Warnock - Daily Herald Daily Herald
September 18, 2011 12:25 am  • 

A 116-year-old Steinway concert grand piano is getting a new life at Orem High School.

The piano is believed to have arrived in Utah on the transcontinental railroad. It languished for years after being accidentally dropped into the orchestra pit, used as a workbench by a handyman and his saw, and operated with a cracked sound board.

"The once-grand dame of pianos was about to be chopped up for firewood," said organizers of a fundraiser to save the piano. "But knowing the extraordinary value of the piano, Orem High School choral Director Sterling Keyes had the piano evaluated for repairs in 2004."

The price tag came in at $32,000 and it has understandably taken almost eight years to raise that sum. Students, parents, alumni, and businesses contributed about $9,000. Two $5,000 donations from the Ashton Foundation and the Music Opportunity Network pushed the total closer to the target. Short about $4,800, the school's principal Michael Browning designated the remaining money from school funds.

Keyes said having a Steinway piano to practice on and accompany performances gives students a chance to learn "on the very best. It says something about the quality of our arts program to have a label like Steinway on our stage performing with young musicians. It says to them you don't have to wait until your specialized music career to experience the very best."

The piano will get a new soundboard, pin-block, strings, felt, keyboard, action and damper-system. Keyes said that when done, "it will operate better than a brand-new factory Steinway."

The piano is a D Series, which means it is the finest instrument Steinway makes. The piano was originally donated to Orem High by a local Orem family, who inherited it from their pioneer grandmother. It is not clear what year the piano actually arrived at Orem and may have been a gift to the old Lincoln High School, Orem's predecessor.

About 400 students are currently enrolled in music classes or participate in music programs at Orem High School, more than 35 percent of the student body.

Rick Baldassin, owner of Baldassin Pianos in Salt Lake City, is doing the restoration work. It arrived in "very poor condition," he told the Daily Herald. When the work is done, the piano will be valued at $75,000.

"I really admire what they are doing, trying to preserve part of their history," Baldassin said. "And when we are done, we will have an instrument that will serve the school for the next 75 or 100 years."

Caleb Warnock can be reached at cwarnock@heraldextra.com.

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