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Austin community fundraises to save a 102-year-old Steinway B Grand Piano

The fundraiser, led by Austin High School director of vocal music Kalle Akkerman, 507 Country singer Riley Olson, senior Madi Herrick and her grandpa Jim Herrick, includes online donations, T-shirt sales and a musical performance on Oct. 7.

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A students plays the Steinway B Grand Piano at Austin High School.
Contributed / Kalle Akkerman
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AUSTIN — An old piano is retaking center stage as the Austin community fundraises to “Save the Steinway.”

The Steinway B Grand Piano has long lived in the limelight with several spots on Austin High School stages for the past 101 years. Austin High School director of vocal music Kalle Akkerman said the piano was likely purchased new and added to the building when it opened in 1921.

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“It is a big history,” remarked Akkerman. “The problem is it’s 102 years old, and it’s completely worn out. It’s honestly hard to play, or play well.”

He said the music department has many “riches,” such as 20 practice rooms with pianos, partnerships with the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the Austin Music Boosters and the Hormel Foundation, and of course the Steinway. The school’s music value expanded with the Austin MacPhail Center for Music adding a second floor to the school’s annex building solely for music in the 2020-21 school year.

School staff, students and alumni hope to hear the Steinway’s tunes extend to future generations with a goal of raising $40,000 for a refurbishment project. The fundraiser, led by Akkerman, 507 Country singer Riley Olson, Austin High School senior Madi Herrick and her grandpa Jim Herrick, includes online donations, T-shirt sales and a musical performance on Oct. 7.

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Jim Herrick said he joined the fundraising effort for the students and the music program more than the piano itself. He’s an avid musical arts supporter, vice president of the Austin Symphony Orchestra and an alumnus of Austin High School’s band, where he played in the 1950s along with his wife, Mary.

“I just feel this is paying it forward. This is just doing for kids what people did for us, and there’s nothing more important,” Jim said.

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The Steinway B Grand Piano in the Austin High School choir room. The piano is 102 years old as of 2022.
Contributed / Jim Herrick

But why is it important to save this Steinway? The generations of students and local and worldwide pianists are the fundraiser’s foundation. The piano itself is high quality, and Akkerman added the cost of a new Steinway would be around $100,000.

“Steinway is among one of the best quality grand pianos you can buy, in my opinion, in the world. They’ve been around forever,” said Akkerman. “And we happen to have a 1920 Steinway and those earlier year Steinways are arguably some of the best grand pianos you could buy.”

After the school received a Fazioli F308 Concert Grand Piano piano in 2021, the Steinway began gracing the choir room. The community, from the Austin Symphony Orchestra to the Hormel Foundation, led last year’s fundraising initiative too as part of a long history of music excellence in Austin.

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“To have something of this quality in the choir room of all places, where it’s not a recital instrument or a concert instrument, but simply an accompanying instrument is a pretty impressive thing,” said Akkerman.

The Steinway is “the student’s instrument,” Akkerman noted. The piano accompanies four to five choir classes daily along with community choirs and a series of vocal recitals. Madi, as a member of the Austinaires show choir, said the Steinway carries the choirs through their rehearsals.

“This piano has been basically a rock to me,” said Madi. “It’s helped me learn everything that I know about music, and I just think it’s really important that for the future kids coming into choir … that they get to hear it in its best glory.”

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The Steinway piano in the Austin High School choir room. The piano was purchased new by the school in the 1920s.
Contributed / Kalle Akkerman

Along with her brother, Madi enjoys the musical love encouraged in her family. She plays piano, drums and clarinet – the same 75-year-old one her Grandma Mary gave her in fifth grade.

“They’ve always shown us how important music can be,” Madi said of her grandparents.

“I love doing things for music,” Jim said. “I just find music to be a great value in everyday life.”

In the halls of Austin High School, and from the "Peanuts" songs, the piano’s tune is easily recognizable and draws students to return to the piano.

“The kids that play it – and myself included I grew up on this piano too at Austin High – fall in love with the way it sounds and really enjoy playing it. I now have a couple kids that just used to come in here and play for the fun of it over lunch hour, and now they’re taking piano lessons on this same instrument,” said Akkerman.

A musical enjoyment fundraiser is at 5 p.m. on Oct. 7, 2022, at the Hormel Historic Home Peace Garden. Tickets are for sale at hormelhistorichome.org and at the door. Donations are also accepted online on GoFundMe and the Music Boosters of Austin, Inc Paypal page.

The Austinaires and 507 Country will perform during the fundraising event, which also includes a meal, silent auction and drawing. Madi said community businesses have donated gift cards, fall goodies, an electric guitar and sports tickets.

“We wanted to kind of show off what came out of this high school because of this piano and everything,” Madi said of 507 Country, who are Mower Country favorites and graduated from the Austin High School music program.

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The Choir Department is also selling T-shirts and crew necks on the Games People Play Sports website until Sept. 18.

While the fundraiser is two years in the making, the goal remains to replace interior parts and work on the exterior case of the piano. Akkerman said the school has two Minnesota companies in mind for the project, Classic Piano Restoration, LLC and North Country Refinishing. The refurbishment will bring even higher quality to the piano with the pieces available today, Akkerman and Jim Herrick said.

“It looks like a dog’s been chewing on it,” Akkerman described of the 7-foot Steinway. “It’s falling apart, it really honestly is falling apart. It’s missing giant chunks of wood. The ivory keys are, you know they have 102 years worth of wear on them and I don’t know that we’ll be able to refurbish those keys.”

“Sometimes aging is beautiful and sometimes it isn’t so beautiful. And the Steinway is at the point where the aging isn’t so beautiful anymore, and it just needs a lot of work,” Jim Herrick said.

The refurbishment project is set to continue Austin Public Schools’ musical legacy and bring students to stages around the world.

“(The Steinway will) be here long after I’m dead. It better be,” Akkerman said with a laugh.

If you go

What: “Save the Steinway” fundraiser

When: Oct. 7 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Hormel Historic Home Peace Garden

Related Topics: AUSTINEVENTSMUSIC
Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in enhancing online articles as well as education, feature and health reporting.
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