Dean Letter: The Rebuilt Piano

Hello St. Paul’s,

As you may know, we have long had two Steinway grand pianos in the Great Hall. Neither was in great condition, and about two years ago we decided it was time to restore the better one to its former glory, so that we could host concerts with a really good instrument. Restoration of a grand piano costs around $40,000 if it’s done right, and we wanted it done right. Many of you helped to raise funds and Gabriel organized a couple of concerts: this generated some money, but the bulk of it came from what we call the PACEM fund, an invested fund that can only be used for music expenses that aren’t part of the normal operating costs. We were also extremely fortunate to have parishioner Robert Wilkins as the Godfather of the project: as former Chief Operating Officer of the San Diego Symphony Robert was familiar with the best piano technicians across the country: he directed us to the right person and oversaw all the arrangements as well as personally covering some of the expenses. The total cost ended up being around $42,000, which was a worthwhile investment in an instrument that would cost more than twice that if we bought it new from the factory.

The piano was gone for about 18 months and when it returned last month it was transformed. I am no expert but I can tell you it’s an incredibly fine instrument to play and to hear. I asked Gabriel Arregui, who is an expert, to join me today and tell us a little about the piano.

The piano is a Steinway model B, a “seven foot” (actually 6 feet 11 inches) grand, built in the US in 1929, which was during the “golden age” for Steinways built in this country. It was already at the cathedral when Gabriel first started singing with the choir in the 1970’s, and we aren’t sure who was the donor. It used to be in the choir room and it took a fair amount of abuse from choristers as well as the normal wear and tear over the course of its 91 years. It really wasn’t suitable as a concert instrument any more. The rebuild has exceeded all expectations. Gabriel has already been in touch with some pianists who would like to perform on it, and we hope to inaugurate a concert series, perhaps starting virtually. He will be playing Sunday postludes on this piano going forward.

To take care of the piano, we will make sure that it is tuned and played regularly, and that it has a sturdy cover to protect it, particularly from liquids, as one spill can be catastrophic.

Donations to the Friends of Cathedral Music will help to support the care of the piano as well as any concerts we host.

In the video version of this letter, Gabriel plays a Chopin waltz on camera, but I will simply end with heartfelt thanks for the generosity of those involved in this project, the original donor of the piano, all of you who contributed to the fundraisers, the benefactors of the PACEM fund, and especially Robert Wilkins.

See you on Sunday!

Your sister in Christ,

See more videos of Gabriel playing on his YouTube account! (Click Here)

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