After some 37 years on the job, the piano at the Lexington Opera House — make that the nine-foot Steinway Model D Concert Grand — was in need of attention.
A gift to the venue in 1976 from an anonymous donor, the Steinway has been played by such celebrities as Randy Newman, George Winston and Diane Schuur, as well as artists from numerous Lexington arts organizations.
"We've been tuning that piano for several years," said Kyle Dusenbury, piano restoration specialist at Gist Piano Center in Louisville. "It had gotten to the point where it started to have regular problems and just needed an overhaul. So the decision was made that instead of just fixing little things here and there, we would do a complete renovation of the piano."
Thus was born the 88 Keys Piano Fundraiser, an initiative to raise the estimated $52,800 for the full restoration. The goal was for the Opera House Fund to raise half that sum by "selling" piano keys of various denominations. The Lexington Center Corporation then matched the donations.
"In curtain speeches all last year before every Broadway Live show, I would mention the campaign just to make sure our patrons were aware," said Luanne A. Franklin, Opera House director of performing arts. "The piano was gone from the Opera House for well over a year for the overhaul.
"The Steinway was used very, very often. It was kept in a very safe location with a dehumidifier and all the necessary storage. But just moving a piano as much as one needs to over the course of nearly 40 years takes a toll on the value of an instrument, and the value of a Steinway just cannot be understated."
Restoration work included stripping the cabinet down to the raw wood and replacing the action parts. The instrument was eventually sent to a Steinway factory on Long Island, N.Y., where the soundboard was replaced.
"The restoration was a decision based on value, Dusenbury said. "The retail of a new piano of that size with the parts that were installed is about $110,000. So it was a smart financial decision because it is now, essentially, a brand new piano."
Dusenbury will be in the audience Friday night when Marcus Roberts becomes the inaugural performance artist on the restored Steinway. For him, the evening will serve as a kind of celebration.
"It's kind of an exciting thing for us. When you work on something for that long, you can't help but create an attachment with the piano."