Flathead High School Principal Michele Paine didn’t know much about grand pianos when she started looking for one over a year ago to replace the stately Steinway that had previously been housed in the school’s auditorium since 1989 and will be used in performances at Flathead Valley Community College’s future concert venue.
Paine’s search revealed layers of nuances and rules for the industry that governs the instrument, which is regarded as the backbone of the high-level concert scene.
“I started researching a year and a half ago, and the world of concert pianos is pretty fascinating,” Paine said.
Paine contacted Steinway & Sons, which manufactures and distributes grand pianos that it calls the “gold standard of musical instruments, representing over 160 years of dedication to craftsmanship and uncompromised expression.” A current-year new Model D was priced at $150,000, a bit hefty for the school’s budget.
But Paine’s journey then led her to Ronen Segev, who runs a used piano business called Park Avenue Pianos in New York City. Through Segev, Paine was able to secure a like-new Steinway 2007 Model D for $88,000, including the cost of transporting the nine-foot-wide, half-ton behemoth cross country from New York, where it had sat lightly used in the original owner’s high-end apartment.
“I was just so happy to find this dealer,” she said on June 25, the day the piano was delivered to the auditorium, adding that the instrument was well taken care of and received positive reports from a professional inspector.
Over the decades, Flathead High School has been a somewhat unlikely performance cornerstone in Northwest Montana, thanks to both its large 1930s auditorium, which was recently remodeled, and the presence of a Steinway concert piano. That instrument was owned by an organization first called Flathead Community Concert Association and later Flathead Valley Live On Stage, which dissolved in 2018, at which point the piano was donated to Glacier Symphony, Orchestra and Chorale.
Glacier Symphony featured the piano during its 2019-2020 “The Year of the Piano” season, with acclaimed pianists from across the world performing on it, and the instrument will eventually move on to the new FVCC performance hall.
Under an agreement, the high school housed the 1970s-era Steinway beginning in 1989, carrying insurance on the valuable musical centerpiece while being allowed to use it for school purposes, including its own music and performing arts programs and shows. Numerous other musicians, including luminaries such as famed pianist George Winston, have played the piano at performances held at the auditorium.
“It was great for the school and for the community to have that piano, but it never belonged to us,” Paine said. “It’s always been hanging over our heads. I’m excited that we’re finally getting a piano that will be ours and be in our auditorium for generations.”
Paine isn’t sure how many other high schools in Montana have their own concert pianos, but it can’t be a lot. One uniquely qualifying factor for Flathead High is the design and spaciousness of its auditorium, which allows for the huge piano to sit protected in a container off-stage and wheeled onstage for performances.
“We’re fortunate with the auditorium size we have that a nine-foot piano can fit in there,” Paine said. “We think we’re unusual that way as far as high schools go.”
A $43,000 allocation from a school district interlocal fund and fundraisers predominantly paid for the piano, with a little scraped together out of the school’s activities and building funds after a big fundraiser on May 9 was canceled due to COVID-19.
“I’m just excited as a principal that we’re doing something to improve our school and enhance our music and performing arts programs,” Paine said. “It’s important for our fine arts and for our community. It’s going to be something that will last for generations.”
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