Time is running out to see one of the most fascinating collections of historic pianos in the world. If a trip to London is out of the question right now, don’t worry. The collection is on display here at the Grant County Library, but hurry, the exhibit will close to the public on 30 September.
September is Classical Music Month and the instruments are on loan from the Steve Misener Collection. Misener generously agreed to display eight treasures from his 130- piece collection.
Since the piano’s invention in 1709 in Italy by Bartolomeo Cristofori, pianos have been comprised of wood, felt, buckskin, paper, steel, iron, gold, glass, and, of course, ivory. Creating one is a tour de force; conserving one is an act of love.
“I have focused my business on restoration and sought out old and unusual pianos and organs,” noted Misener. His lifelong passion for them also has a religious tone to it. “Music is transcendental. It moves us,transforms us, leads us down a spiritual path, uplifts us, and makes us whole. It gives language to our soul.”
While this sounds like a big job, the piano, the most popular instrument in the world, is probably up to the task. More people in the U.S. play the piano than all other instruments combined. While many people know a piano has 88 keys, few realize it has 16,000 moving and non-moving parts. Keeping one in top condition is no easy job. Misener, educated in piano tuning and repair is known far and wide as “the piano wizard.” Not only does he repair and tune, but he restores, researches, and acts as a historian and archivist.
“I cultivate relationships with other museums and institutions to study their pianos in an attempt to add provenance to instruments in my collection and those of my clients. The clients describe me as a wizard, I suspect, because I am able to bring it all to life somewhat magically. My real desire is to enable the performer to create the music they hear in their soul.”
For example, the Cabinet Pipe Organ on display at the library was rescued with no clues to its age or place of manufacture. Misener sent a wood sample to a lab for Carbon 14 dating, a test which is considered accurate to within 15-20 years from the date the tree died. The results revealed the tree was felled in 1564. Combining this with his other research, Misener determined the organ was built about ten years later. This organ is also unique in another way- the keys are reversed. The white keys are black and the black keys are white. Traditionally, keys were made of ivory, but when the Great Depression hit in the 1930’s, piano and organ companies were looking for ways to drastically cut costs and many switched to plastic. With the ivory ban in 1980, plastic became standard. The phrase “tinkling the ivories” stuck, however, as somehow “tinkling the plastic” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Amongst the other instruments on display at the library, you will find an Erard harp made in 1794, a Pleyel Grand-the French piano maker favored by Chopin and Debussy, a Steinway, and a Broadwood. This particular Broadwood piano was rented and delivered to Hanover Square Rooms in London for the first performance by Johann Christian Bach, son of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Still not impressed, or perhaps your taste runs more to rarity? If so, don’t miss the John Bland Square Grand built in 1790. It is one of only five known John Bland pianos in existence – two in Europe, one at the
Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., one with an undisclosed owner, and Misener’s.
Even if you don’t know A440 from WD-40, don’t miss this stunning exhibit. There’s a delight to be discovered here for all music lovers, history buffs, and craftsmen.