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A revolving quartet of pianists deliver ‘A foretaste of heaven’

POSTED: March 29, 2009 11:10 p.m.

'A foretaste of heaven'

Experience the sights and sounds of Sunday evening's Symphony of Keyboards.

SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Emmett Holley strikes the keys on the piano Sunday during a performance as part of the Symphony of Keyboards presented by First Baptist Church.

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It was the ultimate surround-sound experience. Four grand pianos, each finely tuned to match the other. Periodically echoing and answering back in arrangements for multiple keyboards.

The concert, “A Symphony of Keyboards,” drew a packed house to First Baptist Church on Green Street. The 14 performers, whose day jobs range from attorney to hairdresser, were all focused on their avocation of concert pianist.

The four pianos were arranged on the stage to give the audience a view of rotating quartets of performers. Many of the pieces were tied to the Lenten and Easter seasons and ranged from the sad and mournful tunes of the crucifixion of Christ to the triumphal songs of his resurrection.

“Tonight was a foretaste of heaven,” said the Rev. William L. Coates Jr., pastor of the church. “There was so much praise from those four pianos that it overflowed to the congregation.”

The Rev. Mark Green, minister of music at First Baptist and also one of the pianists at the performance, called the event “thrilling.”

“It lifted my spirit,” he said.

There are few pieces arranged for four pianos, so adaptations were made to arrangements written for two pianos, Green said.

Della Ruth Johnson, the church organist who is also an accomplished pianist, said playing along with three other pianists requires getting in sync both rhythmically and in spirit.

Steve Cornelison, a Gainesville attorney who has been playing the piano since junior high, echoed Johnson’s comments.

“It’s a bit of a challenge getting everybody playing together,” Cornelison said.

Another attorney, Tyler Smith, called the experience “nerve-wracking, but fun.”

The concert featured the church’s two primary pianos, a 9-foot Steinway concert grand and a 7-foot Yamaha grand. Two other pianos, a 7-foot Schimmel grand and a 6-foot, 10-inch Grotrian grand, both German-made pianos, were featured in the concert.

Coates said he was grateful for the talents of the performance and the abilities of craftsmen to make such beautiful instruments.



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