By Penelope Johnson
The Frank Venables Theatre lobby now provides the shimmering setting for a jewel of a piano: a Petrof grand.
The glossy black instrument has been donated to the Venables Theatre Society as a memorial to piano teacher Agnes Sutherland, who passed away in March 2016.
A “baby sister” to the Yamaha used onstage at the Venables, the Petrof will provide entertainment at small recitals, receptions, weddings, exhibits and gala events in the theatre lobby.
The fundraising campaign achieved its goal in a matter of months, raising $10,000 for this “lovingly used” instrument. Giving added meaning to the memorial, the piano was purchased from Jeanne Crawford, whose daughter had been a piano student of Sutherland’s many years ago. The family had kept the piano in pristine condition.
As proven at a donor reception on Saturday, January 28, the piano holds its own in the large lobby. Despite a lofty two-storey ceiling, the instrument’s smooth tones easily filled the space.
The reception featured several pianists, chosen for their musical variety. Fourteen-year old Chase Alaric amazed the donors with his boogie-woogie blues workout.
Jim Wyse tickled the keys with some jazz arrangements, with loudest applause for Oscar Peterson’s moving Hymn to Freedom. Piano students Kendra and Mataya Leinor and Kelan Harty added sophistication with some classical pieces. One of Sutherland’s former pupils, Lisa Elgert, performed Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago. In a fitting tribute, Ginette Aubin lent her powerful pipes to a performance of I Believe, accompanying herself on the piano.
Interspersing the musical numbers were several reflections on Agnes’ contributions to the Oliver community. Several members of Agnes’ family were on hand to reminisce, including speeches by her brother Dave Evans and daughter Sally Franks.
Penelope Johnson of the Oliver Community Arts Council announced the society had made an additional $5,000 in memorial donations to local schools for capital expenditures in both music and fine arts departments. She also recalled Agnes’ connection to the original Venables Theatre as an accompanist for many SOAP musicals and student recitals.
Venables Theatre manager, Deb Martin, expressed her amazement and gratitude for the outpouring of support for the memorial piano.
A total of $10,000 was raised with the support of many organizations, including those of which Agnes was a member (the Oliver Sagebrushers and the Oliver Community Arts Council), as well as the South Okanagan Concert Society, Women of Oliver for Women, and the Oliver Community Theatre Society. Roughly 60 individuals also donated generously to the memorial fund. In addition, several of Agnes’ paintings were sold to raise money for the piano. The memorial campaign was co-chaired by Marion Trimble and Sally Franks.
The funds required to pay for a brass plaque will be raised with a raffle. Prizes are three paintings by professional artist Robert E. Wood of Calgary.
Prize winners will be announced on May 11 during the Wine Capital Art Walk. Tickets are $5 each and can be purchased at the Venables Theatre.