Aiken resident Diane Dorton listened with pleasure to South Aiken High School choral students as they sang with accompaniment from music director Craig Coehlo on a special piano.
But Dorton’s enjoyment on Thursday was bittersweet. For about a year, Dorton and her husband Harold had discussed donating the piano within the community through the Aiken Performing Arts Group’s Instruments in the Attic program. Unfortunately, after an illness, Harold Dorton died two weeks ago.
The couple moved to Aiken 23 years ago and soon purchased the used piano. They hadn’t learned how to play it well, leading to their decision to find the piano a new home.
“We didn’t want to sell it,” Dorton said. “It’s in such good condition and we wanted to see it put into such good use. I just wish my husband could have seen this.”
APAG volunteers worked in collaboration with South Aiken’s PTO to bring the piano to the choral program.
“It’s been a busy time for us with pianos,” said APAG’s volunteer education outreach coordinator Bob Kelley. “We’ve donated eight of them now, and two more schools have requested pianos, too.”
The donated model is a Baldwin-Howard; Baldwin eventually bought out the Howard manufacturer. It’s about 40 years old and in excellent condition, Kelley said.
Refurbishing the piano and providing other needs cost about $1,500. The keyboard was taken out and put into registration, Kelley said. A special dolly also was purchased, allowing the piano to be moved from the auditorium to the choir room without having to frequently retune it.
South Aiken began to rebuild its choral program about three years ago. When Drew Dickey, the previous director, left for graduate school, principal Bryan Skipper brought in Coelho, a University of South Carolina graduate.
“To have such a piece of equipment is just fantastic,” Skipper said. “We could not have afforded it.”
Originally from New Jersey, Coelho was active in high school chorus and All-State programs before enrolling at USC. He liked Aiken after visiting the city and was thrilled to get the invitation to join the South Aiken staff.
Coelho was pleased and touched that Barton participated in the informal presentation.
“The piano helps us so much,” said Coelho. “It’s going to energize the kids and make them realize we’re heading in the right direction.”
Three students – Terrance Sanders, Marlia Brand and Kenneth McCormack – shared their director’s enthusiasm. Sanders currently takes music appreciation, but plans to join the chorus as a senior next year.
He was surprised to get a solo part and also surprised when his mother, South Aiken staff member Beverly Sanders, attended the event.
“I’ve been singing a lot, mostly at church” Terrance said. “I like to have fun, but it has become more important to me now. And the new piano is really exciting.”