A bar owner celebrates the Summer Solstice each year with the burning of an older upright piano. While sad that a musical instrument of this complexity and craftsmanship is departing in such an incendiary way, the truth is that many older pianos that not been properly cared for are no longer capable of providing the beauty of tone and touch that make a piano such a joy to play. That’s why you should always rely on a respected dealer or technician from which to acquire a used piano, vs. Grandma’s or the neighbor’s old Kimball, which may, depending on many factors, be better off this fundraiser burning party. See Jordan Kitt’s current selection of Certified Used Pianos here…
Here is the story via the Journal Sentinal:
Julie and Dale Bladow looked on with even more interest than the rest of us. It was their piano that was about to be cremated.
Respectfully, of course. With all the dignity you can muster in the backyard of a saloon. And — this is the dangerously delicious part — while being played amid the smoke and flames. A final song or two, and then great balls of fire.
A crowd of maybe 75 assembled Sunday afternoon on lawn chairs and picnic tables outside the Roxbury Tavern, which is northwest of Madison near Sauk City. It was time for the 11th annual burning of a piano to mark the summer solstice.
Julie and three of her four children played this Kimball spinet, purchased used by the family about 1982. But the kids grew up and lost interest, and the piano was pulled from the living room during remodeling of their home in Mazomanie.
“We put it in the garage for what we thought would be a couple of months. It ended up being 13 years,” Julie said.
It’s a common story, said Tom Gresser, 72-year-old owner of Roxbury Tavern. Lots of people have pianos they don’t play anymore, though admittedly not all want them incinerated as a spectacle.
“Usually, we have more offers than we can accommodate. We could burn a half-dozen pianos a year,” he said.
The tradition began with Tom’s worn-out piano. He didn’t want to pay someone to haul it away. Someone suggested burning it, so they did.
You may be getting the sense that Roxbury is not your typical bar. Its motto is “Cognitive dissonance since 1989.” Early on, Tom took out the televisions, pool table and jukebox. He wanted this to be a place of conversation. He banned smoking before Wisconsin passed the law, and he doesn’t allow cursing.
But, damn, I just had to witness this piano burning party. It’s actually a fundraiser for Northwest Dane Senior Services to help older people maintain well-being and independence. Executive Director Paulette Glunn told me not everybody is crazy about the idea of torching rather than tickling the ivories, so they just say “hot piano” in their promotions.
Last year, they burned dueling pianos. They’ve never done a grand piano, but there’s always next year. Tom put a cheap Radio Shack microphone inside the piano one year to amplify the crackling until the heat got to it.
Music for Sunday’s event was presented by The Dang-Its. At 5 p.m. they packed up their instruments before anyone got any ideas about diversifying the musical fire. The band joked that attendance for the party would be even higher if the bar burned a banjo.
It was time for the main event. Larry Collins, a retired Presbyterian minister and jazz musician, took the microphone and delivered a brief eulogy of sorts. He said there’s a tradition in France of burning worn-out pianos as an honorable send-off, which may or may not be true. Wikipedia says something about the Royal Air Force doing it.
Larry also explained why a turkey wrapped in foil was placed atop the piano. There’s a burning ordinance banning bonfires. “So we put a turkey on top and call it a cookout.”
A few logs doused with an accelerant were placed against the back of the piano and ignited with a flaming section from The New York Times. Larry sat down on the bench and began to play, starting with “On Top of Old Smokey,” a bit of “Fire and Rain” and the beginning of “Summertime” until the keys stopped working.
“I think it’s about time to get out of the kitchen,” he said, backing away from the growing fire. “It’s not the heat that I worry about so much. It’s when those strings snap. When they get hot they can be almost like whips.”
Read the full story here