The Yankee Air Museum, Willow Run MI. Today. That's where I learned about the Steinway Victory Vertical Project. And it certainly was a fascinating journey led by Dr. Garik Pedersen, a Professor of Piano at Eastern Michigan University.
The program, sponsored by the Eastern Michigan University Foundation, featured Pedersen telling the story of "Victory Vertical" pianos and playing music from WWII that related to the war effort. Pedersen first learned of these special WWII pianos during an impromptu interview with Henry Z. Steinway shortly before his death in 2008. That interview piqued Pedersen's interest and resulted in a decade-long journey during which he learned more about the pianos and the impact they had on men and women in service. He now presents an eye (and ear) - opening presentation around the country.
The Victory Vertical Pianos were lightweight, 40 inches wide and could be packed and shipped in a crate. Steinway created these inexpensive instruments to be easily delivered to areas where fighting was going on. They weren't the finest pianos that Steinway produced but were certainly the most resilient. Some even found their way into submarines. Others were parachuted into war zones! They were lighter than standard instruments and made with metals and materials that had not been reserved for the war effort. In an era when many homes had pianos and many could play them, these pianos and the music generated at their keyboards boosted morale overseas.
The audience today was transported through a sentimental journey of sorts as we heard Pedersen play swing, jazz, classical and film music from the 1940s. I know I welled up with tears at times. From Moonlight Serenade (Glenn Miller) and Chattanooga Choo-Choo (Harry Warren) to the Warsaw Concerto (Richard Addinsell) and Laura (David Raksin), there was an abundance of memorable music expertly played by Pedersen.
The Yankee Air Museum was a fabulous place for the presentation. It features planes and other memorabilia from WWII. I had never been there before and was pleased to have this opportunity. How would I dress for the event? As Uncle Sam, of course. It was a perfect fit.
Looking for more information on Garik Pedersen and his Victory Vertical Project? Check out victoryvertical.com.