Three Steinway grand pianos sit covered and clamped shut at Durham School of the Arts, one with a sign reminding students and teachers not to use it as a table.
Now a group of volunteers is working to raise the money to refurbish the unplayable pianos.
Trudi Abel, who has a son taking piano at the magnet school for grades 6 to 12, estimates that $32,000 would be enough to restore the first of the three pianos and set up an endowment to keep it properly cared for in the coming years.
It would cost $125,000 to buy a new 9-foot concert grand Steinway.
Its a big job, Abel said of the restoration effort, but it you had to buy a new one, its a big, big, big, big, big job.
The school teaches piano now on electronic lab keyboards, and many students learn very well that way, Abel says. But the electronic pianos dont have the same action, or resistance on the keyboard, putting DSA students who havent had time on an acoustic piano at a disadvantage when it comes time to compete nationally for spots on the college level.
Its not the same as playing a real, honest-to-God piano, said DSA Principal David Hawks.
At least half of the sixth-graders taking piano come from a house without a piano.
Two of the pianos, a 5-foot, 8-inch model from 1924 and one a 9-foot model from 1943, have been at the school since before it transitioned from Durham High School to Durham School of the Arts in the 1990s.
No one thought too much about them until Duke University donated a 1917 piano, another 5-foot, 8-inch model, to the downtown school on North Duke Street last year.
The cause was taken up by Elmos Diner on Ninth Street, which donated 10 percent of its receipts on one Tuesday this month to refurbishing the pianos.
As of last week, volunteers had raised $8,000. That will go toward refurbishing the 1943, 9-foot concert grand. Next in line would be the 1924 piano, and then the 1917 Steinway.
We have so many talented students in this school that we really have a need for a piano, DSA piano teacher David Pocock said.
Pocock said he has friends, including a Juliard professor, who have offered to teach guest classes at DSA, but without a quality piano, its just not worth it for them to come in.
And the fundraising project isnt just for his classes, Pocock said. The refurbished pianos could be used in choir, band, chorus and theater as well.
Also, Abel said, funds could benefit the larger community, as The Choral Society of Durham, the Durham Symphony, Durham Childrens Choir and the American Dance Festival have used the schools Weaver Auditorium for performances this year, bringing in their own pianos.
The school does have one working upright acoustic piano, but it doesnt have the same rich sound as a restored concert grand would have.
We just need the tools to keep up with what the vision is, Pocock said.
The volunteers have contacted local restorers who have assured them that, despite their neglect, the pianos can be restored.
The restoration process includes sanding down the whole case, fixing holes in the case and replacing the strings and hammers.
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