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Enjoy Magazine

Gifted Musicians

03/19/2013 10:33AM ● By Kerri Regan

Piano Angels Connects Students with Instruments

Story: Kerri Regan

Music teachers extol the virtues of practicing one’s instrument, and that advice is reasonable enough when you’ve chosen the flute or the clarinet, which tuck neatly into portable cases.

But if your developing talent is tickling the ivories, it gets tricky. Redding Greater Chamber of Commerce President Frank Strazzarino discovered this when he began taking piano lessons himself, and saw that many of his teacher’s school-aged students were bumping into a big problem once they left the grand piano in the music studio.

“Some of them have incredible talent and the potential to develop into fine musicians, but they’d go home to a plastic keyboard with 61 keys. You can’t really advance your skills without a real acoustic piano, and there are no piano stores in town,” says Strazzarino, who also played piano as a child.

And those who were inclined to travel out of town to buy a piano could expect to pay $1,500 or more. “It’s beyond the capacity of many families,” Strazzarino says.

Until the angels appeared.

Strazzarino gathered some philanthropic music lovers and founded the nonprofit Redding Piano Angels, which connects young students with entry-level pianos for their homes. Volunteers help find pianos, evaluate them and buy the ones that fit their criteria.

Then the “angels” help families with the purchase, arrange for a free tuning, defray some of the moving costs and sometimes even grant small, short-term, zero-interest loans. In addition to helping with piano purchases, Redding Piano Angels offer a sheet music library, piano lesson scholarships, grants for minor repairs and more.

So far, the organization has placed 27 pianos in people’s homes, mostly through word of mouth among music teachers, and seven more pianos await suitable homes. “It’s really exciting,” Strazzarino says. “We just get a thrill every time we get a new piano.”

The thank-you notes are music to the volunteers’ ears: “My daughter loves it and her fingers wander to the piano all the time,” one parent wrote. “You made it possible for my granddaughter’s dream to come true,” wrote a local grandmother.

Community members can help with the effort. The organization’s wish list includes pre-owned pianos in good condition, sheet music, instructional books and metronomes. Those interested in donating a piano are encouraged to go to the website to review the piano acceptance policy. For students who would like to take a piano home, the grant application is also available online.

Young musicians can also try their luck at winning a gently-used, high-end piano. In April, Redding Piano Angels will host a competition where up to 15 children will compete for the opportunity to take it home.

The joy of watching the program grow is difficult to measure, says volunteer Evelyn Peterson. “It’s extraordinary how these young students have progressed from recital to recital,” she says. “Their lives have changed. They’re more excited about lessons. They’re getting better and working harder.”

Tienne Beaulieu, who serves on the board of directors and has taught piano for 38 years, agrees. “They’re more engaged. They’re getting more expression and gratification from the effort they’re putting into their practice,” Beaulieu says.

A keyboard responds much differently than an acoustic piano, and although a keyboard is OK for a beginner who is learning basic mechanics, an actual piano is necessary to develop that expression, she says. “The art of playing piano is in the touch,” she says.

And the program isn’t just for schoolchildren. If you’ve always wanted to take up piano, Strazzarino encourages you to take a page from his book. “If you want to climb Mt. Shasta or write a book or learn to play the piano, there’s no better time than now,” Strazzarino says.