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Although many things are being recycled these days, pianos rarely are. Beautiful to look at and listen to, they often end up discarded, trashed or dumped in landfills.
But sometimes there are angels who step in and give these once lovely instruments a second chance.
Redding Piano Angels, a 501(c)(3), strives to acquire pianos that have been languishing but are still in good condition and connect them with young kids and families who want may never had a real piano before. This dedicated group was brought together by Frank Strazzarino, the President and CEO of the Greater Redding Chamber of Commerce and President of Redding Piano Angels.
Strazzarino took piano lessons years ago but didn’t keep up with it. A few years ago he was inspired to take lessons again, to follow his passion. In the course of starting piano lessons, he met other students who took lessons on a beautiful Steinway or Yamaha piano. He quickly realized, however, that after their lessons, these students would go home to practice on an inexpensive plastic keyboard with only 61 keys. These fell short of the 81 of a full sized piano.
But they were missing out on much more, said Strazzerino.
“Any piano teacher will tell you there’s nothing like an acoustic piano,” he said. There’s a huge difference in the touch, technique and especially what you feel from an acoustic versus a plastic keyboard, Strazzarino said.
Redding’s last piano store – Piano Works – closed three years ago. Since then, people haven’t been able to buy pianos in the area, other than answering an ad on craigslist or inheriting one that may have been standing around or stored badly for years.
There are a lot of lousy pianos out there, Strazzarino said.
But there are a lot of young people and families who dream of having their own real piano but can’t afford to buy one. The issue, Strazzarino realized, was how to connect boys and girls and entire families with limited budgets with their first acoustic piano.
In 2011, Strazzarino and a small group banded together to find solutions. And in 2012 Redding Piano Angels was born.
They soon discovered that there were many families whose kids had started piano lessons only to quit soon after, leaving a perfectly good piano idle. The parents want to do something with the unused piano. Once they contact the Angels, Strazzarino goes and tests it to see if it’s playable. If it passes, his colleague Tienne Beaulieu, an area piano teacher for 39 years, goes and checks it out.
At this point many of the pianos offered unfortunately don’t pass muster. Many haven’t tuned in years and may have some serious issues.
“We turn down way more pianos than we accept,” said Strazzarino.
Don Sheely, a retired piano tuner / refurbishser extraordinaire, is the final inspector.
A family will donate often a piano. Sometimes they’ll sell it to the organization.
“We acquire it for a good price,” he said, “and we’re able to get it to a family for a really good deal.”
“What we offer these families is certainty,” said Strazzarino – the certainty that these pianos will operate.
Redding Piano Angels typically gets a piano that might sell for $400. The family wanting one might be able to put down $200. But they still have to move it and tune it.
Piano Angels will give them an unsecured zero interest loan for $20 a month payback. In ten months the piano is paid off.
“We don’t make any money off (the loan),” Strazzarino said.
In barely two years, Redding Piano Angels have helped around 42 different families, even some who lost everything including the piano due to a fire. They have acquired and handled pianos to around $30,000 value.
They always send a thank you letter to those who offer them pianos. Then they research the piano’s condition.
Like car repairs, it doesn’t take much to get into hundreds of dollars in repairs, Strazzarino says.
For Piano Angels, each transaction is a little bit different, he said, just as every piano is unique.
Sometimes they’ve arranged for free piano tuning. They awarded gift cards to three local students to purchase instructional piano books. They even paid for one month of piano lessons.
Last April they sponsored a special piano competition. Six young people performed before judges and an audience. Judging criteria was based on 40 percent talent (performance and presentation), 40 percent financial need, and 20 percent commitment (both the family and the student). The winning student, Jake Standifer, didn’t take home a ribbon or award. He won a Yamaha grand piano!
Redding Piano Angels has gone one step further. For those who can’t afford either a piano or keyboard, they’ve donated a clavinova to the Redding library. Clavinovas look and sound like pianos but they’re electronic. Amazingly versatile, they can save and load songs, sound like a harpsichord or an organ and even be connected to a computer via wireless network. The library’s clavinova is located in the fireplace room upstairs and, with just a library card, anyone can use it via headphones and, with or without a teacher, make beautiful music.
“We don’t make any money doing this,” Strazaarino says. “We just do this based on the passion of connecting young students with pianos.”
But, he said, there’s also the environmental benefit of not seeing pianos going out to the dump or being crushed.
Redding Piano Angels has received some grant funding from the Sierra Pacific Foundation and from Redding Rancheria. They’ve also received some donations.
“It’s very rewarding to do (this),” says Strazzarino.
If you’re interested in learning more about Redding Piano Angels or want to get involved, visit their website at www.reddingpianoangels.com.
Photos by Frank Strazzarino.