A Spiritual Instrument

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The article on Cole Porter’s piano (“A Spiritual Instrument,” summer 2014) brought back memories of the late fall of 1964, when college librarian Wyllis Wright, Class of 1925, called to ask: “How would you like to go with me and see what Cole Porter has left us?” I joined him at the small house on West Main Street. In the bedroom, three walls were filled with shelves holding books of American and world literature, many of them signed by the authors with a greeting to Mr. Porter. The main room, where the piano was located, held more shelves filled with books about music and musical scores. The Bechstein piano, from before WWII, was not in great shape—the sounding board had some cracks in it, and the action and tone were uneven. We put it into the salon of what today is Weston Hall. It turned out that the parts to fix and bring the piano up to a fine standard would have to be handmade, a very pricey thing. Spare parts had been destroyed in the Berlin air raids, and there was no love of Bechstein; Frau Bechstein was one of the earliest and most generous of Hitler’s patrons. So now the instrument sits in the shape in which we inherited it, subject to the up and down humidity levels of big college buildings. Better for us were the musical scores that Mr. Porter left to us, which form an interesting and unusual part of our musical collection in the Sawyer Library.

—Kenneth Roberts, professor of music, emeritus, Bennington, Vt.

 

I very much enjoyed the article about Cole Porter’s Bechstein grand piano in Thompson Memorial Chapel. In my day, the piano was in the language lab next to Perry House, and William Finn ’74 played it—fortissimo—every night. And the result? Multiple Tony awards, Falsettos, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, etc. I have no doubt Cole Porter would be pleased.

—Grace Paine Terzian ’74, Oakton, Va.