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Save Howard, one key at a time

The Point is holding Black & White Party to refurbish beloved 100-year-old upright piano

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Down some snowy steps and into The Point Artist-Run Centre's foyer, a few metres further and there's "Howard" in a place of honour, right next to the stage.

Howard is The Point's upright piano, so named because the Howard Piano Company made it around 100 years ago. It's a dusty, gorgeously put-together hardwood instrument that recalls the bygone early days of the resort, when entertainment was local, intimate and live, three qualities The Point has always tried to emulate.

Executive director Stephen Vogler explains that Howard, which has sat for almost 60 years in the lodge that now houses The Point, has seen better days and needs serious refurbishment.

That it is an antique there is no doubt; you can imagine the co-founder of the pre-ski settlement on Alta Lake, Myrtle Philip, playing Christmas carols on it.

Vogler lifts the keyboard cover to show that some keys have already been removed; replacements are being made in North Vancouver. The piano's future came up during a meeting in early December, he adds.

"So many musicians have come through the Point over the years and have had a tinkle on it. It always had a charming, wonky, somewhat out-of-tune sound, but it will be great to be able to use it for performances," Vogler says.

"I had thought of making this one an outdoor piano, replacing it inside, and putting it on the back porch where people could play it out-of-doors. But then Whistler pianist Carol Severson got her piano tuned and recommended Peter Gomes to take a look at it."

The result was that piano technician Gomes, based in North Vancouver, said he would be able to refurbish Howard.

"I was surprised, because a few players told me it was probably done, but he said he could fix it. He took pieces of it to his shop and has been redoing keys that were chipped, and fixing the top and all the innards of the piano," Vogler says.

"It's pretty exciting. He said it's a good piano, it has a really good base sound."

A "Save Howard" Black and White Party is planned for Sunday, Jan. 22 to pay for the refurbishment costs.

Four pianists with wildly differing styles — Severson, Doc Fingers, Rosalind Steel, and Garth Mosbaugh — will perform on Howard, which is expected to be fully restored by then. Other musicians are also expected to join the roster.

Around $900 is needed to cover Howard's restoration, and The Point is putting the piano's old 88 keys up for sale at $10 each. A keyboard tapestry art piece will have the donors' names added, and go on display at the venue.

The lodge, which now houses The Point, is younger than Howard, having been built at Alta Lake in the late 1950s.

"I got ahold of Dave and Carol Fairhurst, whose father built the lodge when they were tiny. Dave was born in 1960 and remembers hiding behind the piano as a toddler. When they had gatherings he would sit behind the piano," Vogler says.

"What would be fascinating is to find out where the piano came from before that, and I haven't hunted that down yet. I'll keep at it."

The Resort Municipality of Whistler inherited the piano when they took on the lodge — with The Point taking on responsibility for the instrument.

Vogler recently watched a short documentary about what is happening as families digitize their keyboard playing — with many pianos simply being thrown away.

And, as if to confirm this, over the past four months he has had two or three pianos offered to The Point by owners who no longer have the need for one.

"Canada was a really big builder of upright pianos 100 years ago... and they are just being taken to the dump and destroyed. It's sad and fascinating, this kind of cultural changeover," Vogler says.

"It's important to me to give Howard a brand new lease on life."

Tickets for the piano fundraiser are available at www.thepointartists.com and at Armchair Books in Whistler Village. The cost is $30 with dinner, $15 show only; and $20 and $10 for children 12 and under.

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