Almond Blossoms, piano keys and music highlighted a Ripon community celebration on Sunday.
The Ripon Arts League, a non-profit dedicated to bringing a variety of music to the community each year, held a special concert to dedicate the purchase of a Yamaha baby grand piano. The event was held Sunday afternoon at the Ripon High School Multi-Use Room.
Sunday’s event was the culmination of a series of efforts made in the last nine months by the League also known as the RAL. In May of 2015 a series of minor miscues with an older baby grand piano, a Howard, in the Baldwin piano line brought a dilemma to light.
It started when it was determined that the 75-year-old piano was losing its tune too frequently and the pedals were in need of repair. In checking things out, Kit Oase, RAL President discovered from the piano’s serial numbers that it was actually 94-years-old and crafted in 1921. It was a time when the last horses of San Francisco’s fire department wagons were being retired. It was a time, too, when KWG radio of Stockton was first broadcast on the air.
By the time the piano was 10 years old in 1931, the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, the “Star Spangled Banner” officially became the national anthem, the cost of a first class stamp was 2 cents. The Empire State Building in New York City was completed, and the General Motors Frigidaire refrigerator was made safe for household use.
The old Howard piano has been used in community concerts featuring classical, jazz, country western and other styles of music for 25 years but it needed to be replaced. The RAL Board of Directors decided the best way to address the retirement of the Howard was to replace it with new piano that would last, hopefully, as many years.
In late May of 2015, friends and patrons were contacted by mail and the Ripon community through the now defunct Ripon Record appealing for donations to eventually replace it. The cost would most likely be in the neighborhood of $20,000. Donations started rolling in from across Ripon and neighboring communities like Manteca and Modesto. Amounts from $5 to $50 to $100 and even $1,000 began adding up.
By early November the group had raised over $12,000. Coupled with a special price offering through Barker’s Music in Modesto and a very generous donation from a Ripon community member, who preferred to remain anonymous, the goal was reached and an order made.
By mid-December, as folks were observing and celebrating the Christmas holidays, a new piano subtly arrived in town and the RAL began working on a special event to dedicate the new acquisition.
The Gottschalk Music Center Concert Band with 35 members, under the baton of Matt Cover who also serves as Modesto High’s band director performed several works to commemorate the event. The talent and love of music was recognized by Master of Ceremonies and RAL Vice President, Chuck Roots.
The highlight of the event, however, was made by pianist John Hillenbrandt as he performed George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Written in 1924, the piece is for solo piano with band accompaniment. It combines classical music and jazz and has been a highlight of the American music scene for almost a century.
Hillenbrandt is well known in the Central Valley area having been the staff piano accompanist for Cal State-Stanislaus for over 500 performances. He has also performed regularly with the Modesto Symphony. In his spare time as a mountaineer he has climbed Mt. Shasta, the Grand Tetons, and Mt Whitney. He has made more than 50 hikes up Half Dome in Yosemite.
Patrons who helped donate the funds to make the dream of replacing the old Howard piano become a reality were treated to a special band concert. It was followed by a dessert reception following the event on Sunday afternoon.
Almond blossoms, a beautiful sounding and energetic band, the tremendous sound of a new baby grand piano and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue made it a truly special event for the folks in Ripon.