Melissa Hill rehearses on a 111-year-old grand piano recently donated to the Mid Island Performing Arts Festival. On Sept. 22 she will perform at a concert at St. Andrew’s United Church recognizing the donation.(Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Mid Island Performing Arts Festival receives donation of 111-year-old piano

Instrument was originally owned by festival’s founder, Andrew Dunsmore

A 111-year-old grand piano belonging to the founder of Nanaimo’s Upper Island Musical Festival is finding a new home at St. Andrew’s United Church.

Andrew Dunsmore was a prominent Nanaimo music teacher who from 1925 until his death in 1955 served as organist and choirmaster at St. Andrew’s United Church. In 1928 he founded the Upper Island Musical Festival, which this year changed its name to the Mid Island Performing Arts Festival.

Dorothy Rowledge, who has been involved with the festival ever since 1937, first as a competitor and now in an administrative role, was one of Dunsmore’s students and learned to play piano on his 1908 German-made Bechstein Model A.

“Most people didn’t own a grand piano back in the ’40s, so it was a great novelty to play a grand piano at that point,” she said.

After Dunsmore died, his youngest daughter Adele, also a music teacher, took possession of the piano before ultimately passing it on to her son Wade Nesmith. Three years ago Nesmith contacted his cousin, festival president Andrea Bertram, to tell her that he was downsizing and thinking of refurbishing the old piano and donating it to a university. Bertram mentioned the festival association was in need of a piano and suggested he gift it to them instead.

On Sept. 22 the the group will unveil the newly rebuilt piano at a concert and dedication at St. Andrew’s United Church. Dunsmore’s descendants will be in attendance and the event will feature performances by festival piano competitors past and present.

“I remember very vaguely pulling myself up on the legs of that thing, probably shouldn’t have been doing it,” Bertram said of her memories of the instrument. “So it’s very emotional for our family and (Nesmith) could have donated it just in his name and his mother and dad, but he wanted to be inclusive of the whole family.”

RELATED: 120-year-old piano brings the joy of music to Nanaimo’s Commercial Street

Among the performers at the concert is jazz pianist and singer Melissa Hill, who competed at the festival from the mid-’80s to mid-’90s and made it to provincials on multiple occasions. Hill now lives in Nanaimo and works as a music instructor and encourages her students to compete at the festival level.

Hill has played centenarian pianos in the past. Back when she was studying music at UBC her grand piano wouldn’t fit in her apartment so she used her friend’s mother’s 100-year-old Heintzman.

“Actually I wrote my first couple albums on that piano, so I do have experience playing an older piano,” she said.

Hill will perform an original jazz composition as well as Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor. Last week she tried out the piano for the first time.

“The touch feels really nice. The tone is fantastic,” Hill said. “And playing a Chopin piece with a lot of trills and runs, there’s a lot of agility to the touch and a really warm, tender sound. It’s beautiful.”

The piano will be housed at St. Andrew’s, as it is the festival’s longtime venue and because of its connection to Dunsmore.

“The church is absolutely delighted that the piano has come home to St. Andrew’s and we are so appreciative of being able to use it during Sunday services and other events that are held at our church,” said St. Andrew’s board chair Elaine Winquist.

WHAT’S ON … Mid Island Performing Arts Festival Welcomes Home our Piano concert at St. Andrew’s United Church, 311 Fitzwilliam St., on Sunday, Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. General admission $12 at the door, $10 for students and seniors.



arts@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

City of Nanaimo looking at closing two lanes of Front Street, adding bike lanes

City councillors to discuss $400,000 project at finance and audit committee meeting Oct. 16

Vancouver Island cancer patients get new ride to appointments

Qualicum Beach woman donates van to Freemasons’ transportation program

Nanaimo Fire Rescue reviewing potential sites for future fire stations

City’s growing population, infrastructure, traffic congestion prompting study

Nanaimo Mounties want to find owner of riding tack

English-style saddle and boots and blankets found in south Nanaimo

OPINION: The more walkable a city, the more liveable it is

New pedestrian advocacy group, Walk in Nanaimo, being formed

VIDEO: #MeToo leader launches new hashtag to mobilize U.S. voters

Tarana Burke hopes to prompt moderators to ask about sexual violence at next debate

Potent power play paces Canucks to 5-1 win over Detroit

Miller nets a pair as Vancouver wins third straight

UPDATE: British couple vacationing in Vancouver detained in U.S. after crossing border

CBP claims individuals were denied travel authorization, crossing was deliberate

After losing two baby boys, B.C. parents hope to cut through the taboo of infant death

Oct. 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day in B.C.

Cheating husband sues mistress for gifted ring after wife learns about affair

The husband gave his mistress $1,000 to buy herself a ring in December 2017

B.C. massage therapist reprimanded, fined for exposing patients’ breasts

Registered massage therapist admits professional misconduct

B.C. boosts legal aid funding in new payment contract

‘Duty counsel’ service restored in some communities, David Eby says

Rugby Canada helps recovery efforts in Japan after typhoon cancels final match

Canadian players wanted to “give back in whatever small way they could”

VIDEO: Bear spies on cyclists riding by on Campbell River street

Riders seem unaware the bruin is mere feet away on the side of the road

Most Read