Students work to restore a piano made by Chopin’s favorite maker

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SUZAKA, Nagano Prefecture – An old piano has been forgotten and abandoned under the first floor stairs of Azuma Municipal High School here for decades.

The aged instrument had fallen into a sad state of disrepair, with some of its strings broken and the ivory bands covering the keys peeling off.

But that all changed after last winter when principal Hiroyuki Shimada, 61, learned of the piano’s pedigree while sorting through documents in his office.

The principal discovered that it was made about 100 years ago by Pleyel, a prominent piano maker founded in France in the early 19th century.

Pleyel pianos are legendary for their rarity and are said to have been treasured by the famous Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin (1810-1849).

Now the students are working on a piano restoration project, raising funds and engaging in promotional efforts. They even participate in repair work with their own hands.

DONATION BY AN INDUSTRIAL

According to school officials, the piano was made in 1924.

It was donated by Ukyo Yamagishi, a deceased industrialist from the city, in 1958 just before the school opened.

It had apparently been placed in the school’s music room, which was also built with financial support from Yamagishi.

But when the school building underwent repairs around 1995, the piano was left under the stairs.

After Shimada discovered the history of the piano, he suggested that the students conduct research on Yamagishi and the piano as part of their winter vacation homework.

After doing their research, the students said they wanted to breathe new life into the aging instrument.

According to a piano tuner working at the school, Pleyel pianos are rarely available on the second-hand market and are expensive if one exists.

But this piano was in a particularly dilapidated state.

There are only a few technicians with the knowledge to work on the instrument, while no spare parts are available.

“It could cost 5 million yen ($36,000) to fully restore it,” the tuner said.

SCHOOL FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE

In April, students discussed ways to restore the piano and make it playable again as part of “integrated studies” for the school of 140 students.

They started a piano repair project and divided the students into three teams, each responsible for “planning events”, “raising funds” and “disseminating information”.

First, they set a goal to raise 500,000 yen for repair costs.

Then they decided to ask a pianist to play a concert with the piano after it was restored during the school’s cultural festival scheduled for October 2.

The restoration project began at the end of June.

The piano was brought into the gymnasium, with all the students dismantling the instrument and cleaning each part under the tutelage of the tuner.

They decided to redo the music stand parts, prop stick and other missing parts.

“I’m thrilled to bring the piano to life,” said Momoko Tanaka, 15, a third-year student who leads the event planning team.

Members of the fundraising team discussed ideas, including seeking cooperation from businesses to promote the project and sell placemats, as well as herbs and flowers they grew at the school.

“We want to raise a lot of money,” said Sogo Matsumoto, 14, a third-year student.

Members of the information dissemination team shot videos of the students dismantling the piano and cleaning the parts to promote their efforts.

Having already shot footage of a student playing Chopin’s “Nocturne” with the piano before it was restored, they also plan to make a video to show how the piano sounded before and after the repair.

“We want to find ways to make (the difference) easily noticeable,” said second-year student Ami Ueda, 13.

HOW THE PIANO SOUNDS

Their preparations continued smoothly.

It was decided that classical pianist Takashi Yamamoto, a native of Nagano City, who finished fourth in the prestigious International Chopin Competition, would be invited to play the piano at the cultural festival.

When the students asked Yamamoto’s agency in July if he would be available to perform, the company was all too willing to agree.

The students also continued their efforts during their summer holidays.

In addition to visiting local businesses, they sold herbs and flowers to parents and guardians and raised around 400,000 yen to repair the piano.

The upcoming festival has growing expectations among students eager to hear how the restored piano sounds in the hands of a Chopin master like Yamamoto.

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