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‘Keeping Time’ collection uncovers history and evolution of the piano
April 15, 2013
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By Kristen Miller
News Editor

DASSEL, MN – Through the centuries, the piano has taken on many different shapes and sizes from its original rendition designed by Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700.

Piano tuner and technician Steven Misener bought his first player piano at an auction when he was 15 years old, and has been collecting variations of the piano ever since.

Today, his collection consists of 130 instruments, with the earliest piano or pianofortes (meaning soft and loud) dating back to the 1780s.

Now through Sunday, May 5, Misener offers a unique opportunity at the Dassel History Center as he displays 28 of his antique pianos in “Keeping Time: The Historic Piano Collection of Steve Misener.”

Each piano has its own story to tell, from the wood and art used in its creation to those who first enjoyed its music.

Many of his pianos can be traced back to the original owners just by their serial numbers, along with further information about the pianos, such as the year they were made.

With that information, “One thing leads to another,” Misener said.

For example, Misener was able to trace the family history of the original owner of the 1830 George Watts Cabinet Upright by a receipt that was glued to the back of it.

From that receipt, he speculated the piano was sold to a family member, likely a brother or cousin. Through an Internet search, Misener discovered the two men were part of a Philadelphia family.

Further research found that their grandfather, Jacob Mickley was actually the person who hid the Liberty Bell from the English during the Revolutionary War.

“There are fascinating stories that come around these instruments,” Misener said during a tour.

The oldest piano in Misener’s collection is a square grand, circa 1780.

Judging by the wood and the construction of it, this piano was likely built in Germany, Misener noted. Its inverted keys – made from ebony (dense, black wood) and bone (rather than ivory) – was typical of a German builder at that time, Misener explained.

One doesn’t need to be a pianist, or a musician for that matter, to be engaged throughout Misener’s tour, commented Carolyn Holje, museum director.

This month-long exhibit is Misener’s fifth tour like it, most of which have been in the Midwest on an annual basis.

The title of the exhibit, “Keeping Time,” is significant for Misener in three ways.

First, keeping time refers to the musicality of pianos and the rhythm needed.

Second, each piano has had its own place in time.

Lastly, Misener said that keeping time refers to the custodial time, from the piano’s original owner to those like himself who have, and will own them in the future.

Praise for ‘Keeping Time’ exhibit

LeRene Soderberg of Dassel has been a piano teacher for nearly 50 years and was extremely impressed with the collection and the presentation of it.

“Everybody needs to come and enjoy this exhibit,” Soderberg said, adding that it’s a wonderful learning experience, even for those who aren’t musicians.

“I just learned so much. It’s very interesting how he demonstrates his knowledge of each of the pianos,” Soderberg commented.

Some of the pianos on the exhibit are available to play, which Soderberg enjoyed doing, as well.

For Soderberg, being able to play a piano from the mid-1800s and hear the sounds it made was very inspiring, she said.

Her three grandchildren (ages 7 to 10) also enjoyed the exhibit despite some initial resilience.

“We could not get them out of there,” she said.

About Steven Misener

Steven Misener lives in Stockholm, SD and has been a piano tuner/technician by trade for 33 years. His interest in pianos, however, spans more than 40 years.

His interest in antiques and history began at a young age, back when he was in fourth grade.

He grew up with an old upright, with which he took six months of piano lessons. He has learned the rest by himself throughout the years.

His first piano purchase was a 50-year-old player piano that he bought at an auction for $35 and eventually got working with the help of a local piano tuner.

Then, one day, he read somewhere that there were 5,000 pianos to every piano tuner.

He found the odds of making a decent living were in his favor, and thought, “There are 5,000 pianos out there with my name on them,” Misener explained.

Finding pianos throughout the years hasn’t been much of a challenge for Misener, who finds them at auctions or when sought after by people who want to make more space.

“People are already calling me [at the museum],” Misener said, though his shop is full.

For more about Misener and his collection, visit stevenmisenerpiano.com.

‘Keeping Time’ tour schedule

Tour times are 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; Saturdays 9 a.m., 11 a.m.; and 1 p.m.; and Sunday, Mondays and evenings by appointment.

Admission is free.

For more information or to schedule a tour, call the Dassel History Center at (320) 275-3077.

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