From the earliest days, there has been a piano in Peebles Music Club and its successor, ‘Music in Peebles’. In all, the club has had five instruments since its formation in 1947 (and briefly used a sixth, belonging to the Education Department, in 1973/4).

The following account, derived from committee minute books, traces the history of the club’s pianos over six decades. We start with a look at our current piano and then follows a chronological account of its predecessors.

The Current Piano

Since 1988, the Club has owned a Steinway Model ‘O’ Grand Piano, finished in rosewood, with the serial number 167013. It was manufactured at Steinway’s factory in Hamburg in 1914 and was received in London on 27th July of that year. It was then consigned to Harrods on 2nd February 1915.

Prior to its purchase by the club, substantial renovation work, including a complete re-string, had been carried out on the piano in 1984.

Shortly after acquiring it, in 1990, the Club had the hammers replaced, bringing the instrument up to its optimum performance. In 2004, an A-frame was fitted and the piano was moved from its former home in the Macfarlane Hall to the newly-opened Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre, following the transfer of the Club’s concerts there. The Eastgate now store the piano on behalf of the Club, along with a new concert piano stool which we purchased in 2008.

The piano is professionally tuned prior to every concert in which it is played, and is periodically inspected to ensure that it continues to perform to the required standard.

Additional servicing and maintenance work is carried out as required by a qualified Steinway technician.

This includes voicing, (improvement of the piano’s tone, primarily by attending to the hammers and adjusting various parts of the piano’s keyboard mechanism) and regulation (adjustment of the action mechanism which affects the touch of the piano).

We consider ourselves fortunate, as a music club in a relatively small community, to possess such a high-quality instrument, and to be able to welcome to Peebles many distinguished pianists, including Steven Osborne, Ashley Wass, Llyr Williams, Benjamin Grosvenor, Nigel Clayton, Alexander Romanovsky and George-Emmanuel Lazaridis. We look forward to our piano continuing to delight audiences and meet the demands of world-class visiting pianists for many years to come.

In addition to its use in concerts promoted by Music in Peebles, the piano is also made available for occasional use by other professional pianists appearing at the Theatre, subject to approval by Music in Peebles.

All photos by Dawn Mellis-Fox

In the Beginning….

Peebles Music Club’s first piano, a Bluthner upright, was generously lent to the club by the Countess of Dysart, the Club’s first Honorary President. The piano was transported in May 1947 from the Countess’s home at Stobo Castle to the Picture Gallery of the Chambers Institute, where the club then held its concerts. The cost of this exercise was £10, plus a gratuity to the hauliers of 15 shillings (75 pence).

In June 1951, the club purchased a second piano, a Lange (also an upright), for £85. This was installed in the Picture Gallery beside the Bluthner. However, as time passed the club was clearly growing in confidence and expectation, and within two years members were thinking in terms of acquiring a grand piano. As a first step, a ‘wanted’ notice was placed in the Peebles News of 22nd July 1955, although when this drew no response, it was decided instead to carry out repairs to the two existing pianos, at a total cost of £10.

Grand Designs….

The club’s ambition to own a grand piano was finally realised in 1956. Fund-raising activities had been held to finance the purchase, a whist drive realising eighteen pounds fourteen shillings (£18.70) and a raffle seven pounds ten shillings (£7.50). The Lange upright piano was advertised for sale in the Peebles News and sold for £55. The club’s minutes then record that ‘On 6th October, Mrs. Rankine, Miss Barrett, Miss Weatherston and Mrs. Redpath motored to Newport-on-Tay in Miss Barrett’s car where, after careful inspection, it was agreed to purchase….a very fine ‘Gaveau’ French Grand Piano for the sum of £95’. The piano was delivered to the Picture Gallery on 17th October 1956 at a further cost of £14.

After being re-tuned to Concert pitch (A = 440 Hz) from New Philharmonic pitch (A = 439 Hz) the Gaveau gave good service to the club until 1973, when deterioration was noted due to the dry atmosphere created by the central heating in the Picture Gallery. Following the club being re-constituted as ‘Music in Peebles’ in May 1973, concerts were moved to the Burgh Hall, where a Bechstein grand piano was used by permission of the Director of Education. This piano had to be transported from the Drill Hall each time at a cost of £8.

Goodbye Gaveau….

The following year, 1974, a report revealed further deterioration in the Gaveau, necessitating re-pinning at a cost of £200. In May of that year, it was therefore decided instead to purchase, for £250, a replacement in the form of a Bechstein Model ‘B’ grand piano, which had been valued at £275. Having been refused financial support from the Arts Council of Scotland for this purchase, it was financed from club funds, supplemented by interest-free loans from members. Some of the cost was recovered by sale of the Gaveau to the Music Department of Patrick Thomson’s of Edinburgh, allowing members’ loans to be repaid in full in August 1974.

By 1978, the cost of transporting the piano from its home in the Picture Gallery to the Burgh Hall for concerts had reached £150 a year, and it was decided to avoid this by moving concerts back to the Picture Gallery. It was also noted at this time that, like the Gaveau before it, the Bechstein was showing signs of dehydration damage. In an attempt to prevent further deterioration, a humidifier was installed at a cost of £12. 1978 was also the year in which a piano fund was first established to help pay for maintenance and eventual replacement of pianos.

Eventually, new fire regulations made it impossible to continue using the Picture Gallery for concerts, and the 1985/86 season saw a move to the Old Parish Church Centre (now the MacFarlane Hall), where the Bechstein also found a new home. At the end of that season, an assessment of the piano was made and in July 1986, renovation work was commissioned at a cost of £874 (a measure of the inflation over the preceding decade). Also in that month, the Bluthner upright piano was finally sold for £150, having been in the Club’s possession since 1947.

Bye-bye Bechstein…. Hello Steinway

Two years later, in September 1988, the Bechstein was itself sold to Moffat and District Musical Society for £2,500, to be replaced by the current Steinway Model ‘O’. The opportunity to purchase this instrument arose by chance when, in 1988, Dr. Michael Jacobsen of Edinburgh University decided to offer it for sale to a music society. On inspection, it was clearly of high quality, being warmly recommended to the Club by Herrick Bunney, then the distinguished organist at St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh.

The piano was purchased for £3,500 with the help of a grant from the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) and proceeds from the sale of the Bechstein. In accordance with conditions attached to the SAC grant, the Club continues to operate a Piano Fund towards the cost of ultimately replacing this instrument.