Sounds Great

By John Swartz

What makes a Steinway piano sound good?. When it was built and who is playing it. St. Paul’s Centre had a concert, Piano Showcase, Saturday afternoon to unveil their new ‘old’ Steinway piano.

The piano, built in 1917, was a gift from the family of Wendy McQuaig Fallis. It was restored by Mike Chau in Toronto. It wasn’t in good shape when it arrived at his shop.

“Awful,” Mike laughed. “When I got it, it was kind of a greenish colour. I put in new wire, new pin block, a whole new action. Then I had to refinish the sound board, lot’s of cracks. I took a lot of time to do it,”

He took the piano apart piece by piece and had to strip, sand, fill and repaint the piano body. The sound board was split in several places; though it was originally made in several pieces, Mike filled the cracks with shims and a wood material and epoxy mix, “It will not crack again,” he said.

Steinway is still the best selling brand in the world, but having had series owners (Paulson & Co. Inc., which bought the company in 2013 is in the process of selling it to the state-owned Poly Group Corp. of China), it’s reputation has suffered. This is why older, restored Steinways are valued and St. Paul’s getting one is such a big thing.

The concert opened with a bit of a contrived performance by 13-year-old Patrick. He wandered on stage while Roy Menagh was welcoming everyone and after a bit of back and forth began to play Chopsticks, with chopsticks. Blair Bailey, Roy and Patrick’s music teacher, Jacquie Dancyger-Arnold got in the act crowding the keyboard.

When the published program got underway. Jacquie and Blair did a duet, Blair and Don Atkinson also did one – with Don on piano, Blair and Marta Solek was another – with Marta on cello, and Blair backed up and John and David Jefferies singing The Pearl Fishers. Those happened in various places during the runtime. The last of the concert was another duet with Jacquie and Blair playing The Skaters Waltz – which was arranged by Autumn Debassige, a former student of Blair’s.

Lidwien Wesselingh, Ross Love, Blair and Doreen Uren Simmons all played solo. While everyone played fantastically, Ross took things to a different level. He memorized The Lark (Glinka) . Watching him play was a treat. He was entirely caught inside the music, which got progressively more complex through the going. At one point he did an end to end and back glissando that was a perfect as ever heard – and he used a crescendo/decrescendo too.

Most on display for the audience was how differently a piano can sound with different players. The touch on the keys combined with how the pedals are used made it sound like a few different pianos.

Michael Jones sprained a wrist earlier in the week and couldn’t perform After the Rain . Blair played it rather than skip over the tune. That’s a big step off a cliff, no one has ever played any of Michael’s music on stage before.

“It was wonderful,” Michael said.  “I think it’s the first time I’ve ever heard anybody play my music. You put things out into the world and then when somebody plays your music it’s a wonderful gift of receiving your work.”

This wasn’t the first time the piano was used at St. Paul’s. Lance Anderson gave it the inaugural run at the Mariposa Folk Festival’s Gospel and Blues concert earlier in February.

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Blair Bailey

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)


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