Sunday, October 3, 2010

Paderewski and Waiheke

This morning (after trying to open a can of canned peaches with my pocket knife and failing miserably - mmm, peach syrup for breakfast to wash down bread slathered in nutella!) I took the ferry over to Waiheke Island, about 18 km from Auckland. I took the 11am Fullers passenger ferry there from downtown Auckland, which would normally be about a 35-minute trip, but the 11am sailing stops to pick up passengers across the harbour in Devonport as well, so it was a quarter to noon by the time we arrived at the ferry dock at Matiatia Wharf.

I bought a ticket for a 1 1/2 bus tour of the island, and got to sit up in the front seat by the driver (he asks me as he takes my ticket, "Are you by yourself? Yes? Do you speak English?"). As we drove around the narrow, hilly roads, the driver provided commentary on the history, landmarks, and local pop culture of Waiheke Island. At 93 square km, Waiheke Island is 20 km wide (at its widest point... at its narrowest, itls only 1km wide), 25km long, and has 95km of coastline.  I found it interesting how many of the communities on Waiheke developed as isolated towns accessible only by boat before the roads were put in; some sections of road weren't completed until the late 1980s. Even so, the driver jokingly assured us that the island has had power since the 1950s, and has "all the modern cons" such as telephone, internet, and cable TV.

The scenery of Waiheke is stunning; and as today had fairly clear weather, we were able to see far out to the ocean, and some brave souls were even swimming on the beaches. I can't begin to describe or remember all the places the bus tour visited, but Waiheke's website is a great place to start for anyone who is interested.

At the end of the bus tour we had the option of getting off in Oneroa, the closest town to the ferry dock (about 1km away). I got off and wandered up and down a few streets, taking in the beautiful reddish colour of the soil. Waiheke has no volcanic activity, and the soil has a reddish tinge due to the high amount of iron ore it contains. I wandered into a restaurant called The Skinny Sardine and had lunch on the deck, with a stunning view of Oneroa and Hekerua Bay. Due to the glass of chardonay I had with lunch, however, I had to remain seated for 15 minutes after I finished my meal, lest I fall over when I tried to walk!

After lunch I wandered back up the main street to a building the bus tour guide had pointed out earlier, intriguingly labeled "Music Museum". It appeared to be open, so I walked in, only to be greeted with a group of twenty or so people sitting in chairs facing a raised platform, apparently just finishing up some sort of performance. A woman approached me and asked if I was looking for someone, and I explained that I was a piano player from Canada and simply interested in the museum. She very kindly introduced me to Lloyd and Joan Whittaker, who founded and own the Music Museum. What a fabulous place! Even though they are not technically open on Sundays (they were having a dress rehearsal for a concert comprised of children from all over Waiheke who take music lessons), Joan and Lloyd very kindly stayed behind for half an hour and showed me many of their instruments.

The idea for the Music Museum started in 1989, after Joan and Lloyd got back from a long vacation including stops in Canada and Europe; they already had "five or six" instruments at home, and wanted to make them accessible for the public to see and enjoy. As Joan emphasized to me, their museum is not one where the instruments are meant to be merely looked at: they are meant to be played and enjoyed. When I explained to them that I was a piano major from the University of Victoria, they insisted that I try out the instruments, including their crown jewel, a 1897 nine-foot Bechstein concert grand piano that once belonged to and toured with the great Paderewski (gorgeous instrument, and such a beautiful tone!!). Joan also delighted me by playing "Kitten on the Keys" on a pianola, and demonstrated for me what is likely the craziest player piano I have ever seen: called an "Orchestrion", it plays piano, a 24-note glockenspiel, and contains a triangle, cymbal, tambourine, woodblock, and bass and snare drums for percussion, all working off the piano role as well... quite literally a "band in a box". 

I also tried my hand at playing a harpsichord (alas, I sound nothing like Colin Tilney), and a dulcimer (which made me think of Christmas music by The Chieftains). While playing the harpsichord Lloyd mentioned that they keep it and several of the other instruments tuned lower than A=440, as was custom when they were built. When I inquired about temperament (having noticed the harpsichord appeared to be equal temperament), Lloyd told me he is a piano tuner and tunes all the instruments himself, using equal temperament. He also showed me an organ (primarily for theatre) that is actually tuned to A=453... I had never heard of a keyboard instrument being tuned higher than A=440! 

Lloyd also played for me an organ that doubles the octaves that one can play (ie, playing two octaves sounds four), and demonstrated with a rousing "Phantom of the Opera". Yet I think my favourite is a tie between the Steinway Table Grand (1873), with its elegant and ornate case (and only two strings for the higher note, giving it a very thin sound in the upper register) and the piano with the Egyptian case (1881), set in ebony and gold with sphinxes on each arm (Joan told me they can only trace four to be existing in the world). 

At the end of my visit Lloyd and Joan very graciously gave me their home phone number, inviting me to come and visit them at their house sometime, where they told me they have several other instruments I would likely enjoy seeing. I thanked them profusely for their hospitality in keeping the museum open and showing me around on what was technically their day off, and left a donation to help with maintenance and future restorative work of the collection. The website of the museum is , and I encourage anyone who ever visits Auckland to take the ferry over Waiheke and see Lloyd and Joan Whittaker's amazing museum... for us music lovers (and piano players especially), it's a wonderful treat, and Lloyd and Joan are both knowledgable and welcoming, making the museum a joy to visit.

Lloyd and Joan's Museum, with Paderewski's Piano in the centre of the stage.

It was wonderful to play a piano again... and I certainly didn't think I would have the opportunity to satisfy my itch to play when I got up this morning to visit Waiheke Island... let alone on a piano once owned by Paderewski!


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