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Everett Civic’s key attraction: A ‘majestic’ Steinway piano

  • Kristi O'Harran / The Herald
Gary Hatle of Everett plays the 9-foot, 102-year-old Steinway piano at the Everett Civic Auditorium.

    Kristi O'Harran / The Herald Gary Hatle of Everett plays the 9-foot, 102-year-old Steinway piano at the Everett Civic Auditorium.

  • Gary Hatle of Everett plays the 9-foot, 102-year-old Steinway piano at the Everett Civic Auditorium.

    Kristi O'Harran / The Herald

    Gary Hatle of Everett plays the 9-foot, 102-year-old Steinway piano at the Everett Civic Auditorium.

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By Kristi O'Harran
Herald Columnist
Published:
  • Kristi O'Harran / The Herald
Gary Hatle of Everett plays the 9-foot, 102-year-old Steinway piano at the Everett Civic Auditorium.

    Kristi O'Harran / The Herald Gary Hatle of Everett plays the 9-foot, 102-year-old Steinway piano at the Everett Civic Auditorium.

  • Gary Hatle of Everett plays the 9-foot, 102-year-old Steinway piano at the Everett Civic Auditorium.

    Kristi O'Harran / The Herald

    Gary Hatle of Everett plays the 9-foot, 102-year-old Steinway piano at the Everett Civic Auditorium.

It's featured at every concert at the Everett Civic Auditorium, but never mentioned on the program.
Listeners can hear it, but can't always see it. Sometimes it's center stage, but applause is reserved for the player.
We're talking about the Steinway & Sons piano that's been cherished at the auditorium since perhaps 1940.
The famous sing its praises, including William Bolcom.
"I played the Steinway in the Everett Civic Auditorium many times as a student at Everett High School," Bolcom said. "I think the last time was in the 1990s when we did a pops concert with the now departed Everett Symphony."
Bolcom knows his pianos. The Everett native was named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America and has received multiple Grammy Awards. He composes cabaret songs, concertos, sonatas, operas and symphonies.
And, by the way, he earned the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Twelve New Etudes for piano.
On the local scene, Gary Hatle of Everett, pianist and accompanist, knows the touch of fine pianos.
"I loved the one at Meany Hall in Seattle," Hatle said. "You breathed on it and it came to life."
He said the Steinway at the Civic has been there since the 1960s. He played it as a student at Everett High School. One thing he said he appreciates about the Steinway is that it has ivory keys. New pianos come with plastic keys.
"If you have moisture on your hands, your fingers can slip on plastic keys," he said. "You don't have the same touch as you do with ivory."
Everett historian David Dilgard said many famous musical names performed in Everett in the 1930s at the old Elks auditorium. He wasn't able to confirm whether or not the Steinway was the stage piano at the Elks club.
We are firm about some of the piano's history. Steinway and Sons keeps detailed records they will search if you are willing to pay. For the low, low price of $25, they told me the Steinway, Model D, was built in 1919. Steinway calls it a "majestic musical instrument." Steinway and Sons made as many as 400 pianos in 1919, according to Customer Service Administrator Panni Talmadge in New York.
"We cannot say how many are still in use due to the fact we only have the original history of each piano," Talmadge said. According to their records, Everett's New York Grand Model D was delivered to Sherman Clay in San Francisco, Calif., on Dec. 22, 1939.
Before delivery to Sherman Clay, the piano was used by the Steinway Concert and Artist Department. In the C and A department, Steinway loaned pianos to musicians for concerts. They wanted to have artists play on perfectly tuned instruments. Technicians went here and there with each piano to maintain the sound.
Sherman Clay in San Francisco doesn't keep records about who bought pianos from them in 1939.
The Everett School District relies on technician Keith Corning to baby the Steinway. He keeps an appropriate temperature in the Civic Auditorium for the sensitive instrument.
If Corning is the nurse, Roger Gable is the doctor. The owner of Gable Piano in Everett first tuned the Civic piano in 1974 and has cared for it ever since.
"In all of my service work, this is one of the best pianos," Gable said. He grew up playing a Steinway at his home, he said.
He can date the Everett Civic piano back to the early 1960s.
"I remember going to a performance at the Civic Auditorium in 1962 and the piano was there," Gable said. "There may be some 'old timers' who could add more detail to this story."
I spoke to about a dozen seniors around Everett, sharing the rumor that a ladies musical club bought the piano for the Civic in 1939. I was passed around like Thanksgiving spuds.
Sadly, memories fade and records are sketchy.
The Everett Civic Music Association brought musical artists to town to perform including Jascha Heifetz, Leontyne Price and Ferrante & Teicher. Jim Youngquist is a former president of the group that was founded in 1931. He said when the Steinway needed tuning, their research indicated that Roger Gable was one of the top guys in the Northwest.
Youngquist, who played violin in high school some 50 years ago, vouched for the excellence of the piano.
"Guests on concert tours will sit down and their eyes will roll back in their head," Youngquist said. "They say they wish they could take the piano with them when they leave."
Hatle can speak fluently about area pianos. He's played all types for all occasions for decades.
"A pianist is only as good as the instrument they play," Hatle said "You have to have an instrument that responds to your touch and personality. That is why people go with Steinway. They are built to be as sensitive as possible, to have the most beautiful tone, to respond to anything you want."
He's been studying piano since he was 9 years old.
"I was voracious in my learning," he said. "You couldn't get me to get up from that seat."
There is much variation among local pianos. At the high end, he said, is the piano at the Snohomish Senior Center. In contrast was the upright he played in Mukilteo. It sounded like it hadn't been tuned since it was built in 1898, he said.
Everett needs a Steinway-caliber instrument, Hatle said. It helps draw the biggest names in keyboard artistry to town.
For instance, William Bolcom. He said Everett's Steinway is a very nice piano.
Kristi O'Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com

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