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September 3, 2013 at 11:42 AM

Reader memories of Sherman Clay piano store



The Sherman Clay piano store in downtown Seattle is expected to close when the last piano is sold or at the end of September, whichever comes first. Earlier in August, I wrote an editorial notebook mourning the loss of the city’s only Steinway dealer and about the downtown Seattle store, which has been selling pianos at 4th and Pine since the 1920s.

You also shared your memories. Here are edited excerpts from the stories you shared with us.

From Zach Hyder:

“Back in college I befriended one of the sales associates during a UW student reception. We kept in touch for a few years, and when I was back in Seattle visiting one summer I dropped by the store to say hi right as it was closing. As they locked up I’ll never forget he said to me, ‘So go for it. Store is yours.’ I asked him which one he thought I should try. He pointed to this one particular Steinway concert grand. ‘That one,’ he said with a big smile on his face. It was incredible. It was like driving a Ferrari for someone who’d only ever been behind the wheel of a Volkswagen. Bach, Grieg, Chopin, Beethoven. I played for close to an hour while we chatted and told stories about our favorite composers and concerts we’d seen. We talked about what made Steinway’s so unique. For a moment, it felt like Carnegie Hall. It was an amazing experience — and I’ve never forgotten his kindness for letting a young kid have that momentary access to one of the world’s finest instruments.”

From William “Bruno” Santo, store manager from 1974 to 1982: 

“It was such a grandiose store. I remember when Arthur Rubenstein was in town for a Concert. I was in charge of the Steinway Concert Bank of pianos. Mr. Rubenstein, before he arrived asked if I would send a piano to his suite at the hotel so he could practice and that he also wanted to come into the store to hand pick which Steinway he would play at his concert. I had about a week to prepare all of the concert grands. I again called my friend Ed Mc Morrow and he tweaked all of the pianos including the one for his hotel. When Mr. Rubenstein came to the store I took him to the 3rd floor and showed him our collection of concert grands for him to choose from. He played for about an hour trying each concert grand until he found the one that spoke to him. During this time I asked if I could stay in the room to listen to him and the pianos. Here I was in my 20s, the youngest store manger in the 50 store chain of Sherman Clay Stores, sitting within five feet of one of the greatest pianist to have ever lived. Ed, my concert technician was next to me, to make any adjustments that Mr. Rubenstein would request. It is an experience I will never forget.”

From Virginia Streets in Olympia:

“In 1931, the Depression was in full sway. My father was an architect and nobody was building homes at that time, so he joined a group known as the PXB (Purchase Exchange Bureau), where members would barter services. It happened that the owner of Sherman Clay was also a member, and he wanted some house plans drawn. My father went into the store, made the deal and we got a beautiful Steinway piano in exchange for the house plans. It seems that someone had exchanged this gorgeous instrument for a Hammond organ. I have been told that it was made in 1907, and although the technician who tunes it says that many pianos this old need extensive work, this one is perfect and is a marvelous instrument.”

From Valentina Rodov:

“Where else would one spend Thursday lunch hour listening to (or playing) Beethoven, Brahms or Chopin, after Ben Klinger’s brief introduction of the performer, and Ben’s classic, ‘And now, without further ado’?
When is the prospective piano buyer going to get a call with ‘we have a piano which has your name on it,’ and after playing just a few notes on that piano be amazed that it really does?
Where else are we going to enjoy wonderful stories by Franz Mohr, the piano tuner to the stars, about spraying the Steinway’s keys with nail polish for Arthur Rubinstein terrified that the keys are too slippery after being cleaned?
Where else can the aspiring students play recitals in an intimate recital room for a friendly, but discerning audience under the watchful eyes of Van Cliburn, Martha Argerich, Andre Watts and other great Steinway Artists looking down from their portraits on the walls?
Where else can one have an opportunity to ‘tinkle’ the keys of Vladimir Horowitz’s concert grand?
We will have a huge hole in our musical hearts with Seattle’s Sherman Clay and its wonderful people gone, no matter who the successor, and I certainly hope there is one, will be.”

From Masguda Shamsutdinova:

“I am a professional composer who left behind all hopes to continue the creativity in the U.S. because I knew only two words in English: ‘hi’ and ‘bye.’ I had to financially help my sons to get an education. (Now they have an education: youngest son is an aerospace engineer, oldest son is a programmer.) If you are a composer, sounds bother you like you are always in labor. I had sounds in my head, but I did not have piano to share with.
First time when I saw the Sherman Clay store in downtown it was like finding a dream. Through windows of Sherman Clay, pianos were sparkling, promising me the hope into the paradise of sounds. I was not able to buy a grand piano. Their prices were not for a newcomer. For me, a used piano was found. Sherman Clay donated it to me. I was not lonely anymore.
That instrument I tuned only once. It keeps a tune very strong. The timbre is so tender, but when you need a thunder it will give you all tunes of tsunami. I am very proud of it/her/him.
Acoustic musical instruments are unique. They have their own voice, character, their own life. They are sensitive to our emotions, our touches they transfer into nuances. This piano from Sherman Clay shared with me my symphonies, poems. The last of my works oratorio ‘Kain’ the last year was performed in my native town Kazan which is considered the third musical town in Russia after Moscow and Saint-Petersburg.”

Comments | Topics: business, downtown seattle, music


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