When we got married, Max asked what I wanted for a wedding present. I wanted a piano, but not just any piano. I wanted a Steinway. I assumed a Steinway would be on my wish list forever, like a Grand Tour of the South Pacific. But a confluence of fate, old friends, and luck changed that. Max had a friend in the piano moving business, and that friend’s blind uncle rebuilds pianos, and that uncle had just rebuilt an old Steinway and was selling it for a song just to clear it out of his shop.
We went to his shop on a hot day in August, 1984, and I saw the piano that was obviously destined to be mine. It was built in 1908, the year of my grandmother’s birth – my grandmother, who taught me to play the piano. I played a few chords and scales, and the keys had perfect “touch.” It had a rich, sonorous tone, and it was supposed to come home with me. So we bought it, really, for a song.
We couldn’t take it home, though, because we drove a little Honda and a littler MGB. So the friend in the piano moving business brought it to Sedalia and hauled it upstairs to the second floor at Dr. Lamy’s house, where we lived. I was originally concerned about getting the piano up the stairs, but I thought it would fit through the two doors at the bottom of the stairs, and then would slide up the stairs on its side. Sure enough, that’s the way it worked, and we were owners of a 6’4” Steinway grand piano. I was ecstatic!
I didn’t know then that I was going to play not one, but TWO Steinways in my musical career.
Two years later, I began accompanying the choir at Broadway Presbyterian. I loved that job and looked forward to Wednesday night practices and Sunday services. In 2001, about the same time my grandmother died, our church experienced a fire that effectively destroyed the sanctuary and everything in it – including the piano and the organ.
Our congregation rebuilt the sanctuary and set out on a quest to buy another pipe organ. When we moved back into the sanctuary, the organ was still a quest, and we were planning to use our little choir practice spinet for services. Then Sue Heckart graciously gave her mother’s 1920s-vintage Steinway to the church.
Stella Heckart, who, coincidentally, became one of my grandmother’s friends, loved playing the piano, and she and Marian Tempel had played duets for years, especially at Easter and Christmas. Sue thought Stella would have been happy to know that her piano was going to be at the church she loved.
And there I was, playing another fabulous Steinway grand piano.
By the time I left for Afghanistan, I had been Broadway’s accompanist for 26 years. I had to find a substitute for the time I would be gone, because I wasn’t going to quit. Well, I twisted Katie Dake’s arm, and she agreed to do it. When I got back, only six months later, she loved being the accompanist as much as I had.
Then fate stepped in. Our music director was leaving, and the Session asked me to take over. I agreed, and so I’m now the music director and Katie is the accompanist; she and our organist, Mark Piepenbrink, continue the tradition of organ-piano duets during Sunday services.
Over this past summer, Sue arranged for the Steinway to be “refreshed,” so that it will continue serving our congregation for many, many years. And just like I feel when I have new shoes, the piano sounds almost proud as it sports its new hammers and felt.
We are celebrating the piano this Sunday as we begin our new choir season, and as Mark and Katie again fill the sanctuary with music from two spectacular instruments. And also in celebration, Katie is presenting a piano recital at 3 on Sunday afternoon. It’s free admission, so come hear Stella’s Steinway at its best. We’d love to see you.
Author’s note: Sunday is the 15th anniversary of 9/11, which changed our country. Remember those who gave, and lost, all.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.