by Kyla Hurt
When the Jacksonville Center for the Arts (JCA) purchased two pianos from MacMurray College for its intended Civic Center in downtown Jacksonville, they had not realized that the pianos would be able to be temporarily re-homed so close to their ‘alma mater,’ if you will. The two pianos, a Baldwin grand piano – Model L, and a Steinway concert grand piano – Model D, were moved to the sanctuaries of Our Saviour Parish and Centenary United Methodist Church, respectively. The pianos were moved from the campus to their current locations in early October and will reside there until the Civic Center is built.
Weller says it took two trucks and eight people from a professional piano moving company for the move. They spent four hours altogether. “Ya know, when you watch something as valuable … and, oh, I was so emotionally tied to these things … and they put them up on end and they take the legs off … and they tootle it down,” began Weller, it is as if what they are doing is ‘no big deal’ or they’re just moving around a few sacks of flour.
“In fact, they showed up and said, ‘Are we going to have fun today?’ and I said, ‘You might be, but I’m not going to have fun. I was pacing. It was just awful. In fact, at one point, Jeff [Davidsmeyer] was taking a picture of the Baldwin when they were crating it up and he finally came over to me and said, ‘Would you move?’ because I’m … (she acts out biting on all her fingernails) standing there behind his shot in agony.”
Yet, they made it safely. As the Steinway is especially large, Weller remarks, “Wonderfully enough, Centenary offered to house it until we have our building built. They rearranged their whole sanctuary to have this monster put in there – it’s a 9-foot piano. It’s the biggest one they make … and it’s got a huge sound.”
Weller comments, “The reason we need two is because what we’re building is going to be on two levels and unless you want to build a really, really big elevator to move one around … then you need one on each level. I found out that there was a very nice Baldwin L Grand Piano with ebony finish in the lounge at Kathryn Hall; it had been on the stage at Springer, but the sound was so big in the recital hall that they decided to move it to a larger area. It’s in excellent condition and we could meet that price.”
“Then, I just sort of casually asked – thank God – about the Steinway that was on the stage at the chapel, which has been there since 1959. They said what it was going to cost and I thought, well, you know, we’re probably not going to be able to afford that.”
However, when Weller talked with the JCA board, she says every one of them agreed that waiting to buy a piano of that caliber down the road when it was a more economically viable option was not the way to go. She explains, “We can get something that’s a part of the MacMurray legacy and something that should stay in Jacksonville.” So, they made their move.
The piano does have history. This particular Steinway D was a part of MacMurray’s history; it was a part of the countless productions, ceremonies and weddings held within Annie Merner Chapel. Plus, it is one-of-a-kind. Weller explains, “The Steinway, interestingly enough … I’m old enough that I remember when Van Cliburn came and did a concert on the stage at the chapel. This was not with that piano. It was in about 1953 … before he won the Tchaikovsky competition, which rocketed him to fame and we wouldn’t have been able to afford him after that. So, when he was here, the faculty asked him if we were to get a really fine instrument that would attract world-class performers, what would it be … and he said let me get back to you. Well, in 1958, he won the big Tchaikovsky competition, then got famous and they didn’t think they were ever going to hear from him … but in ’59, he went to the Steinway shop in Manhattan and picked out this piano and then to make sure they got the right one, he signed the soundboard. So, it says Van Cliburn … I think it says 5 August 1959, so that adds value to it that I can’t even calculate. So, everybody’s referred to it for years as the ‘Van Cliburn Steinway.’”
Now, these two pianos will stay in Jacksonville. Both pianos are still being used and still being heard, just blocks away from their original home. Weller also says she is trying to do a lot of research on the Steinway, adding, “For one thing, I’d like to know every major artist in the music world that performed on that stage and particularly on that piano.” She hopes for the information to be something that can be presented for display by it one day in the Civic Center.
“We’re just delighted to be able to have this part in preserving the legacy of MacMurray,” concluded Weller.