After being housed in the Reception Room of the Washington State Capitol for 27 years, a piece of Spokane’s musical history is coming home for a concert Sunday at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.
The 1893 Bluthner grand piano accompanied Hans Moldenhauer from Germany to the U.S. in 1938 and arrived in Spokane the following year when Moldenhauer opened the Spokane Conservatory.
The Moldenhauer estate gifted the piano to the state in 1990. After nearly three decades in public service, the piano was due for a facelift.
Enter registered piano technician Ken Eschete, owner of Spokane’s Bentside Arts, who was won the bid to return the piano to near original aesthetic and performance condition.
Eschete had his work cut out for him as both the piano’s interior and exterior needed work.
“The tuning pins had become too loose to hold its tuning so the instrument was in very poor tune all of the time and it had become very difficult to play,” he said. “The sound of the instrument had deteriorated to the point where it was just not very pleasant. You might think of a barroom piano sound coming out of a very nice grand piano.”
Externally, things weren’t much better. Moldings had broken off of the lid, and leaky floral arrangements that were placed on the piano had damaged the veneer.
“In one instance, (there was) evidence of a grocery list that was written in ballpoint pen on the piano, which left a clear list of things that needed to be purchased,” Eschete said.
The first item on the list? Light bulbs.
From beginning to end, restoring the Moldenhauer piano, a project spearheaded by the Capitol Furnishings Preservation Committee, took three months.
To reintroduce the piano to Spokane, pianist Jackie Wood, violinist Amy Dodds and cellist Sally Singer, all faculty members at Whitman College in Walla Walla, will perform this concert of solo piano, duos and trios.
The Moldenhauer piano will then be returned to the Capitol as cultural property, meaning it will no longer sound like a barroom piano, and it won’t be available as a desk on which to write grocery lists.
For the time being, many in Spokane are enjoying having a piece of history back where it all began.
“There’s been a tremendous reception amongst the music community, really joy to see the instrument come back and do a victory lap and then go back to a place of honor at the state capitol,” Eschete said.
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