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Restoring the sounds of melodies past

In 2016, we brought you the story behind Australia’s first piano finding a new home at ECU. Three years on, thanks to community support, this national treasure has embarked on its next journey, writes Claudia Bertorello-Kell.

WAAPA Professor Geoffrey Lancaster

If the First Fleet piano could talk, it might tell you about its adventure across the seas from England to Australia, where it arrived as the then-new colony’s first piano in 1788. The finely crafted instrument then might recount the two potentially disastrous fires it survived, or how it became the first instrument used for piano lessons in Australia.

Our ‘talking’ piano could tell you about the pains of ageing. Historical keyboard instruments contain intricate moving parts, ornate inlays and ivory keys that disintegrate over the centuries and are often difficult to replace.

Undoubtedly, the piano would also say thank you to the supporters and donors who have enabled its delivery into the skilled hands of Bath-based internationally acclaimed master restorer Lucy Coad, in the United Kingdom. Instead of an arduous ocean crossing, airline Emirates provided a quicker, smoother and much safer route for the irreplaceable instrument on its journey back to London.

The First Fleet piano was ‘welcomed’ at a gala event held at Australia House in March, greeted with great joy and interest. When restored to its original playing condition, with the help of Lotterywest funding, it will once again delight lovers of music.

ECU Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve Chapman says the University is fast gaining recognition as a world leader in the restoration and conservation of historical keyboards.

“We are heartened by the support of the many donors who share our vision and passion to preserve and share the cultural heritage of the First Fleet piano and the bigger Founding Pianos project, which comprises Australia’s preeminent public collection of rare and important pianos,” Chapman says.

“The restoration of the First Fleet piano has firmly placed ECU at the forefront of worldwide efforts to create research and education programs focusing on the restoration, conservation and maintenance of historical keyboard instruments.”

ECU will offer scholarships and training programs with master restorers and conservators to increase the knowledge, understanding and complex techniques of the rare craft.

This year, the world’s first PhD program devoted to keyboard instrument restoration commenced at the University. To this end, the Feilman Foundation has established a generous scholarship.

World-renowned fortepianist and Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts’ (WAAPA’s) Professor Geoffrey Lancaster says: “Throughout the history of Western civilisation, great music has always been supported philanthropically.”

“Because of the generosity of erudite and enlightened donors, the lives of students, music lovers, scholars, visitors to Western Australia and members of the broader Australian community will be transformed by the beauty and sound of the instruments in ECU’s Founding Pianos collection.”

The First Fleet piano will return to Perth in early 2020 with a vibrant new voice.

The piano will also be part of an exciting plan by ECU to develop a world-leading performing arts precinct that will house the Founding Pianos collection and attract celebrated international performers, teachers, researchers, restorers and curators.

Says Chapman: “With the support of the local and international community, our hope is to deeply enrich the cultural life of Australia for many generations to come.”

For more information, visit foundingpianos.com.au

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