For the love of Steinway

Evening of beautiful music kicks off campaign to fund pianos

The party was designed to take guests back to the days when an evening of entertainment meant visiting the home of a friend to hear an accomplished musician play. A parlor setting, if you will, where ladies and gentlemen gathered around a piano to hear a mini-concert.

The 2009 version of this intimate gathering of music lovers at the home of Dr. Fred and Jane Tolhurst did not simply evoke the past, but was designed to give guests the opportunity to be a part of the future of the Clayton Center for the Arts.

The Grand Players Society was unveiled on Thursday, Sept. 10, at the gathering at the Tolhurst home. The purpose of the Grand Players is to raise $210,000 to purchase two Steinway pianos for the concert stages at Clayton Center for the Arts.

The brain-child of Jane Tolhurst, the invitation to join the society is open to anyone who loves music and would like to donate money toward the purchase of the two Steinway pianos. The kick-off soiree included delicious hors d’oeuvres, presentation of the levels of giving to be “players” in the society, a history of the Steinway piano and its founder and conversation.

And music.

The evening began with a jazz duo featuring the talents of Josh Gaither and Sam Ward. They played softly in the background as guests mingled.

The magic took hold when Dr. Robert Bonham, who taught for years in the Fine Arts Division of Maryville College, sat at the Tolhurst’s Steinway and began to play. His selections showed the versatility of the Steinway piano, and his music filled the rooms and hearts of the guests.

Special guests for the evening also included Bill Metcalfe and his son-in-law Brandon Herrencruck of the Steinway Piano Gallery in Nashville and Knoxville. Metcalfe played a Paul Harvey “Rest of the Story” radio program about the founder of the Steinway pianos.

Kevin and Amanda Painter told those gathered about the community campaign that is on-going to raise funds for the Clayton Center for the Arts, which is scheduled to open in March. Kevin reminisced about growing up in the neighborhood where the Tolhursts live, and talked about the impact the Clayton Center will have on Blount County.

Robert Hutchens, Clayton Center executive director, spoke eloquently about the center and the attention to detail that has gone into every aspect of the building, from the “curtain of glass” at the entrance to the “Tennessee marble in the grand foyer” and the theater, “one of the most acoustically ideal places in the country.”

The Tolhursts explained to guests how Steinways are “chosen” at the New York Steinway Factory, how they are “voiced” to complement each other when two pianos are to be chosen.

“The funds must be raised by December so that the pianos can be selected together and ‘voiced’ together,” said Jane Tolhurst.

Levels of giving for the Grand Players Society begin with $1,000 to be a Player; $2,500 and up to be a Key Player; $10,000 to be a Grand Player and $25,000 and up to be a Concert Grand Player. Should one person wish to donate the entire $105,000, the cost of one piano, they will be able to have their name engraved on the piano in gold along side the Steinway name and logo.

Other perks for Grand Player Society members include:

All Players will have their names listed on a plaque in the lobby;

All Players will be invited to special receptions with guest pianists and orchestra guest pianists and accompanists;

Concert Grand Players and Grand Players will be invited to a tour of the Steinway Factory in New York plus planned events while in New York.

“What has captured the imagination of some of these donors is that this gives them something to feel ownership of with their donation,” said Jane. “And they will consistently receive enjoyment from hearing the pianos.”

Time is crucial, too, for the Society. Pledges of donation must be made by the end of November with money collected by the end of December. Donations of $10,000 and up can be paid over three years.

“Fred and I, as well a many others, are convinced that we must have the finest pianos possible for the benefit of our visiting artists, Maryville College musicians and local pianists, as well as the listening audiences,” said Jane.

The Steinway name will also make a difference in the people you can book for performances.

“Information from Steinway tells us that over 1,500 performing pianists around the world make Steinway their own,” said Fred. “And in performances with the world’s most acclaimed symphony orchestras, 98 percent of piano soloists chose the Steinway for their concerts in 2007-2008.”

The best news for the Tolhursts came in the few weeks since the society had its birth.

“We have our first piano,” said Jane. “With the $75,000 that the college has committed to purchasing a piano and the money raised since the announcement of the Grand Players Society, we have enough for the first piano, plus more toward the second one. Now we must forge ahead to get enough for the second piano so that they can be bought together and ‘voiced’ together in early December.”

A fitting end to the evening came when 9-year-old Monet Harriman took her place at the Tolhurst Steinway and played beautifully.

“A look to the future,” said Jane, and she presented the talented Monet with a chocolate piano.

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