Playing Piano in Yosemite

2015 Ahwahnee Steinway Piano Brett ArcherVisiting at The Ahwahnee or Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park, you may have been treated to the strains of piano music during your dinner in the Ahwahnee Dining Room or while relaxing in the lobby with cocktails at Wawona Hotel. Few people forget the pianist at Wawona Hotel, as he has a style and personality suited to the tales he tells and the songs he sings on summer evenings in Yosemite. Tom Bopp has been playing piano at Wawona Hotel since 1983 (and at The Ahwahnee since 1985) and is quite steeped in the area’s history. Not only does Tom have many tales to tell and songs to sing about Wawona history but he also knows a thing or two about the pianos he plays – including the three Steinway pianos at The Ahwahnee.

From Tom Bopp:

“The story goes that in 1927, decorators working out last details for the interior of a brand new hotel called The Ahwahnee were familiar with a talented young man who’d been spending his summers in Yosemite, dividing his time between practicing the piano and wandering about taking pictures. He was clearly a short step away from becoming a fine concert pianist, and perhaps that’s why it’s said he was recruited to find a piano suitable for the world-class hotel. The pianist’s name was Ansel Adams, who was just then deciding whether to change his career path. ”

“Two other fine pianos grace The Ahwahnee. Currently in the Great Lounge is the ornate tiger-mahogany 1902 Steinway Model “C” measuring 7’4” (Number 102266). It was shipped from Steinway in New York to the M. Steinert & Sons store in Boston on July 26, 1902; a piano resembling it appears in a fuzzy photo of the Camp Curry evening outdoor concert circa 1918, but its provenance remains undiscovered. The other piano, Mason & Hamlin Number 32500 dates to 1924 and measures 6’2″. It is remembered to have lived in The Ahwahnee Bar (formerly “The Indian Room”) as early as the 1960s (Dudley Kendall remembers jazz pianist/composer Vince Guaraldi dropping in to play on it one night).”

Along with Christer Norden and Dr. Ted Long, Tom plays piano for patrons of the Ahwahnee Dining Room during nightly dinner service and at gala dinners for Vintners’ Holidays and Chefs’ Holidays at The Ahwahnee. Tom provided the following details about the piano in the dining room:

BLACK STEINWAY Serial #247305
Model: “D” Ebony
Length: 8′ 11-3/4″ 274 cm (according to modern specifications per the Steinway website)
Manufactured: December 13, 1926
Sold To: Sherman Clay (Authorized Steinway Dealer), San Francisco
Shipped: April 11, 1927

Additional Notes:  The Steinway company representative said their records noted that this Steinway currently resided in the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite — and that this information was entered in 1995.  The number “E2937” stamped on the bottom of the keyslip is an internal manufacturing number used by the makers of the piano, according to the Steinway representative.  Inside the Steinway a massive and intricately designed metal plate supports the several tons of tension created by the strings; on that plate, near the music rack, is preserved the signature of Frederick T. Steinway (1860 – 1927), inscribed by him in the last year of his life, probably at the New York factory. According to Ansel Adams’ son, Michael, Ansel played on this piano on occasion, but not regularly or for pay.

Visit Tom Bopp’s blog for more information about the pianos in Yosemite.

 

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