Agnes Brown’s Piano
The Georgian Bay Symphony is the proud owner and custodian of a superb Yamaha concert grant piano. At least one concert a season features this amazing instrument. Over the years guest pianists have made specific comments about just how good a piano it is.
In 1988 ,the Symphony Board was faced with a dilemma over what to do with the Steinway piano they owned. It was in need of major repairs that the orchestra could not afford. A new piano seemed beyond the financial means of the Symphony, but how do you perform some of the greatest works of classical music for the people of Owen Sound without a concert piano? In June of that year, the Board made the decision to sell the Steinway and simply rent a piano when needed. Over that summer piano teachers, from Owen Sound and around Grey and Bruce counties, met with orchestra Board members to discuss concerns about losing access to a high quality piano. Local students preparing for Royal Conservatory exams in Toronto would be at a distinct disadvantage if they did not have access to a concert piano to practice beforehand.
Around the same time the Board learned through Victor Searle, that Yamaha had a grand piano listed for $24,000 but available to the Symphony for under $18,000. Searle was a great support of music in the area, a piano technician and a sales person for Yamaha. Searle trained the movers in how to properly handle the piano, was the first authorized tuner of the piano and helped to write many of the first policies around its uses.
The Board decided that this was just too good a deal to pass up. In September, a deposit was placed on the piano and a committee was made to figure out how to pay for it. The inaugural concert of the new grand piano was on October 29 1988, with William Aide at the keyboard. William Aide holds an Order of Canada and is Emeritus Chair of Piano Performance at the University of Toronto. It must have been an amazing concert.
Fees and policies for the piano’s use were established very quickly. Local piano teachers and their students were pleased to be able to have access to such a high quality concert piano at a small charge for exam preparations. With all the enthusiasm about the piano, there was still the issue of how to pay for it.
Agnes Brown grew up in Owen Sound, where she received her early musical education in piano. While in Owen Sound, she successfully completed many Royal Conservatory Exams and then went on to study at the Conservatory in Toronto. She taught at Branksome Hall, Toronto. She also toured the province as a member of the group “Pianos Ten”. They gave fundraising concerts to support victims of Air Raids during WW2. On her retirement, she returned to her hometown. She was a generous patron of the arts, who never forgot her roots. A connection was made and a lunch meeting was set up for February 1989. The lunch meeting went well and Ms. Brown donated $15,000 towards the cost of the piano.
The piano has had many homes over the years and has been ‘stored’ at the Alliance Church, the Tom Thomson Art Gallery and at the John Thompson Moving & Storage warehouse, as well as several private homes. Today, the piano is housed at the Harmony Centre Owen Sound, where it receives the kind of care and regular attention it deserves. It is still used by local students preparing for Conservatory exams, as well as other community groups.
In 2016, the orchestra was faced once again with a dilemma. The piano needed to be regulated. This is a major overhaul that is required to keep it in good repair and top shape. The Board once again found itself in a similar situation, a lack of funds. An application was made to the Community Foundation Grey Bruce, which was approved.
The money came from a fund that had been set up at the Foundation, over 20 years ago by non-other than Miss Agnes Nairn Brown. She had set up the fund to support local music initiatives. Long after her passing, she is still looking after her piano.
If you have a close look at the piano you will see a brass plaque recognizing Agnes Brown’s unique contribution to the cultural life of our community.