Refurbished piano debuts at Atlin's Globe theatre

·3 min read

On Aug. 28, performing musicians at the Globe Theatre in Atlin rolled an old piano onto the stage for the first time.

After the small, spaced audience was seated, Heather Keny, volunteer operator and curator of the theatre, tore up a sign that had been taped onto the instrument for 20 years.

It said “do not touch the piano.”

The piano had come from the Atlin School (Keny wasn’t sure if it was the old school or the new school) about 20 years ago. It had been stored with the Atlin Historical Society in a backroom (which is actually a side room at the front of the theatre) in the hope that it would be stored in a heated space.

Heated space is hard to come by in the winter in the tiny community of Atlin. Eventually the furnace died, and for 10 years the piano froze every winter and warmed every summer, with the “do not touch” sign attached.

The piano was missing ivory on 20 keys and hammers were missing for the piano’s high and low ends.

Keny talked to everybody about whether or not the piano was worth saving, and as expected, there were as many opinions as people. But three weeks ago, Whitehorse’s local piano fellow, Barry Kitchen, sat down at it and found that, in spite of the lack of heat, the “piano was still in tune with itself.”

He took the action out, replaced the broken ivories, added the missing hammers and on Aug. 26, attached castors to the toe block on the bottom.

On Aug. 28, Ryan McNally, Lonnie Powell, Dave Haddock and Andy Slade drove into Atlin for their gig at the Globe, and rolled the piano into place.

Slade fingered the keys. After that, Keny said, he couldn’t keep his hands off it. And when he broke into the first riff of the set, the audience couldn’t believe their ears.

The evening was a treat for those seated — seeing Haddock return to the stage after far too long of an absence with his electric bass guitar; McNally’s winter-acquired tunes from his study of pedal steel guitar in Port Alberni; Powell in usual masterful form; and Slade, who was obviously having fun exploring what that old piano could do.

“It’s a very responsive, really warm-sounding instrument,” Slade said. “It’s quite joyful to play. It does all the things that you ask of it. It sounds wonderful in that hall!

“As pianists, we don’t often get to choose our instruments, but a nice piano in a nice room — that’s a really special thing.”

Slade worked as a jazz player on the scene in Toronto for six years. And, as such, says, “I’ve been lucky enough to play with some really, really incredible musicians.”

COVID-19 and connections brought him up to the Yukon. He’s been playing with McNally, and said he’s getting calls from others. He is looking for students as he sets up a teaching studio for the winter in Whitehorse.

Keny said they are talking about Slade doing a solo gig at the Globe this winter.

But the Atlin roster of events is filling up fast, already. All but one weekend is booked at Atlin’s little theatre through to the end of October. There will be a comedian, community theatre on tour, music and maybe more book readings. Keny runs the venue all winter and expects to host music events on alternating weeks throughout the cold winter months.

She’s a force, and the Globe is a one-person-does-everything operation. Keny fundraised for heat and microphones and improved projectors. The latest is a new video camera to record some of the concerts. The piano was just one in a series of weighty accomplishments.

She was joyous in tearing up the “don’t” sign from the piano, then listening to the music produced on stage Saturday night.

“I was blown away,” she said.

Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News

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