Search for a new piano leads to Portland

Delivery was in time for a holiday concert. By Anita Smyke For The Cordova Times

Rachel Curran performs “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” on the piano during the Piano Celebration Concert. Photo by Wendy Ranney/for The Cordova Times

I grew up in a house full of piano music and pianos.

At one time, we had four in the house.

My mom taught at least 30 students every week and we had piano recitals and competitions every three months or so. I had to practice 30 minutes a day and finish my chore list before I could play with my friends after school. I now am very thankful that she made me take lessons all those years.

Since I’m a pianist, I was asked by the Cordova Arts and Pageants board in November to look into getting a used grand piano for the Cordova Center. I soon decided that we really needed a high-quality piano for our beautiful state-of-the-art theater because it would be a joy to play, attract good musicians, and last a long time.

I also wanted to get it to Cordova for a Christmas concert and hopefully have Frances Mallory be able to play it. I talked to piano experts in Alaska, California and Oregon about what we should get. I decided to help foot the bill with my mom’s and my money and try to fund-raise most of it back.

The piano technician in Anchorage told me that “a piano would find me.” A concert pianist from Ashland, OR drove four and a half hours to Portland and spent the night there so he could try out pianos in possibly the largest piano store in the world. He narrowed it down to his top six favorites in my price range. Then he had Chelsea Corrao and I listen to him play them on Facetime. He picked the 6-foot 10-inch Diamond edition Schimmel grand made in Germany.

I said ‘yes’ and the dealer crated it and put it on the barge with Alaska Marine Lines from Seattle. It was the first barge to make it on time in a month and it got here in time for the Dec. 30  concert that I was advertising — whew!

The piano technician from Anchorage that came to make the piano concert-ready is a jazz pianist. He has a performing band, The Dan Mac Band, so I asked if he could bring over some of his musicians and do a concert. He brought vocalist John “Pypes” Teamer and Dirk Westfall, who used to sing and play bass with the Air Force band, and Cameron Cartland on drums. They put on a fantastic concert with a variety of numbers ranging from Stevie Wonder to the “Charlie Brown Christmas” song. Dan McElrath is quite a talented pianist and really showed off the sound of the new grand. I had chills and was on such a high after the concert!

We also had a lot of locals perform including the Rev. Belle Mickelson’s morning music; ballerinas Alana Craig, Ria Smyke and Serena Herschleb, accompanied by Isabelle Nothstine on piano; Maddie Roemhildt singing; Thomas Nothstine, Chasity Bourdess, and Rachel Curran performing on the piano; a hand bell choir playing Carol of the Bells; the Ranney boys, Will Roemhildt and Paul Curran singing; a clarinet solo by Chelsea Corrao; and a beautiful version of “Mary Did You Know?” by Martha Nichols, Mary Gonzales, and Michele Fisher.

Getting this piano turned out to be such a great journey! I now have a new group of friends in the music world. My mother, who has dementia and had a stroke, was able to sit with me and play Christmas duets on the piano with her right hand the day after the concert. We sat at the piano for hours and I played it until the library closed. The feel of the keys is like silk and it is an amazing instrument to play.

Anita Smyke moved to Cordova in the mid- ‘80s and currently works as a recreational technician for the Cordova Ranger District. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends exploring the outdoors, is instrumental with local youth programs, and participates as an active volunteer within the Cordova arts community. She may be contacted at