BY MONICA DIX —
SHS hosted a WSMA District Solo and Ensemble festival on March 15. While many SHS students participated in this event, few may be aware as to how much effort and behind-the-scenes work goes into it.
One of the many challenges that were faced was finding enough pianos to cover the 29 performance rooms. This was the assignment of Jason Clark, choir director. “For us, the challenge was making sure we had enough instruments to use, for a big festival with [more than] 1,300 events and a few thousand kids,” Clark said.
“Acoustic pianos are better suited for all musical endeavors, especially string and vocal, [and are] better than an electric keyboard,” Clark said, “so one [of the main challenges was to find more acoustic pianos.] The first step was to find out how many pianos were in the district. And, happily, to our surprise, we had a lot,” Clark said.
However, many of the pianos had been donated over the years and were “just sitting around,” said Clark. “There were a number that needed to have some repair done to them, and of course all of them needed to be tuned before the festival,” Clark said.
“Some of them had been very neglected … it’s really impossible to tune them as often as they should because none of us have that kind of budget,” said Karen Frink, orchestra director.
Luckily for Clark, SHS music department has had a very good relationship with Josh Saiia, a professional piano tuner and restorer. “So we went and looked at the pianos in the district, and determined which ones made the most sense to restore and get back in shape, and then we picked the best of what we have,” Clark said, “We only had to rent eight electric keyboards, which is actually pretty good, considering we had 29 sites.”
There is one potential issue that has concerned some of the music department staff. “We’re always worried, because we just don’t know what our check from the WSMA is going to be. Hopefully it will work out in our favor, but we will have to see as it goes,” Clark said.
“We’ll pay for it somehow, and we can use the WSMA check, district money, parent donations and booster club money or bake sales [to do that], ” Frink said.
Tuning and restoring the pianos is actually a very good investment for the district, according to Clark. “If something electrically goes wrong with [an electric keyboard], it is a lot harder to fix, and the acoustic pianos [last a long time]. For example, my choir room piano is over 100 years old, and [acoustic pianos] overall can last a lot longer than an electric piano,” Clark said.
The pianos came from all four schools, where they had been collected through donations over the years. “We’ve been pretty lucky in this regard since we have been to [other] Solo and Ensemble [festivals] in the past that have had iffy instruments to work on,” Clark said.
“From what I understand, everyone had been really pleased, and it has cost us some money, but I think it is a really good investment in the long haul because obviously we may have to do this again at some point, and also now if one of our instruments gets damaged, we have others to use,” Clark said.
From a SHS pianist’s perspective, “I know those pianos were in really bad shape to begin with, and I think [fixing them] is worth it because now the band and orchestra have more tuned and working pianos to use,” Justine Spore, sophomore.
“These are really good instruments that we have had around for a long time that are going to last a long time so it costs us a little more to start, but in the end it is a good investment for our programs, especially having such strong performing arts programs at Shorewood,” Clark said.
While most of the pianos have been returned, overall “I think it is really good for the district to know we own these really nice pianos, and it is really in the best interest to keep this expensive equipment in good condition. I think all of us are inspired now to find the funds to care for these instruments, and I know that now that mine is in good condition, it will be used more,” Frink said.