The dreams of many area residents will be realized at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, when the new grand piano at the Paris Center of Fine Arts is dedicated during a free concert at the facility.
The concert and dedication are the culmination of nearly a year of work by a group of local music lovers who took a challenge offered by Paris native Bill Tucker to provide the Paris Center of Fine Arts who, after a visit to the new facility, noted the new theater is a, “wonderful, wonderful facility,” but it, “deserves a decent piano.”
Tucker provided the first major donation for a new grand piano to be dedicated to the memory of the late Moke Owens, a longtime piano teacher and Mayo Middle School music teacher. Owens, who Tucker has described as an extraordinary pianist taught local children and teens how to play piano.
The result was a passionate group of Edgar County community members who called themselves “Play It Forward.” The group raised more than the $70,000 to purchase the Yamaha instrument from The Piano Network in Effingham. The garage for the piano was provided by Paris High School, according to committee member Lisa Tucker. The remainder of the money will be used for a donor plaque to be placed in the lobby of the theater as well as bringing in a professional pianist, “which is not cheap,” she said.
Sunday’s concert features several well-known Edgar County pianists who have played in churches, schools and community functions through the years. A variety of music will be presented ranging from patriotic melodies to Mozart, Brahms and Debussy to George Gershwin, Jim Brickman and American composer Jimmy Van Heusen.
Bill Tucker — who will be attending the concert but not playing — will lead the dedication to Owens, who was his piano instructor. Owens died nearly 30 years ago but he has left a lasting legacy, said Tucker, who now resides in Aitken, S.C.
“Many people will tell you how much Moke meant to them,” Tucker said at the time he announced his $10,000 gift. The piano, he said, will highlight for years to come Owens’ devotion to the community.
The concert — expected to last about 90 minutes — will open with “Interpretations of God and Country,” by Kevin Levellie.
Chandler Dorjahn will play “Goldberg Variations” by Johann Sebastian Bach including “Aria” and all three variations.
“Sonata in F Major, K.332 Allegro,” will be presented by Myrna Bell of Oakland, who is a well-known area piano teacher. Bell provided instruction to renowned concert pianist Kara Huber beginning at the age of five. Huber presented a concert at the Paris Center of Fine Arts in 2016 and it is hoped she will be returning again.
Susan Farris was a student of Owens and also graduated from Millikin University studying piano. Farris is the longtime organist and choir director at the Paris Presbyterian Church and has also taught piano in the community. She will perform Johannes Brahms “Sech Klavierstucke, Opus 18 Six Pieces, Intermezzo and Ballade.”
Dennis Thiel was also a student of Owens and will be playing Isaac Albeniz’s “Evocation” from the “Iberian Suite.”
Local musician and music instructor Evie Gill, will play two pieces — Debussy’s “La fille aux chevuex de lin” “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair,” as well as George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,”
Chrisman pianist and music instructor Nancy Harper will play “He Looked Beyond My Fault,” “The Entertainer,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Kathy Peel is playing Jim Brickman’s “Rocket to the Moon.” Peel was a piano instructor in the community for many years. She is the organist and pianist at the First Christian Church and studied locally with the late Fern Safford for piano and Susan Farris for organ.
The final selection is “Here’s That Rainy Day,” a popular ballad written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, performed by Bruce Bannister of The Piano Network of Effingham. The selection was one of the late Johnny Carson’s favorites and it was played on his last night of hosting “The Tonight Show.” Bannister is a longtime friend of Warren Sperry and served as the best man at his wedding.