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Winter Park / Live Music: Two Uprights to play this weekend

by Cyndi Palmer
Sky-Hi Daily News

Several musicians from The Uprights are providing piano music at the Gasthaus Eichler in Winter Park 6 to 9 p.m. starting Friday with Jan Sears and Sunday with Ella Knight.

The Uprights group consists of four female musicians “that thoroughly enjoy providing background classical, pops, ragtime, waltzes and requests for the patrons of Gasthaus Eichler restaurant … on the old upright piano,” said member Joan Shaw. “We try to keep classical music and showtunes alive in the county.”

They also offer music scholarships with collections from the womens’ tip jars, to help talented elementary school students pursue their musical interests. So far, they have awarded four $350 scholarships to cover music books and lessons. Recipients to date are pianists Christopher Ciccarelli, Davis Lovato, Madisen Lutz and violist, Linnea DeBakker.

The group formed in October 2005 with Traci Maddox as the group’s founder. Sears, Shaw, Knight and Kathy Turnbull make up the original four. “We take turns playing depending on our schedules but his allows us to each play twice a month and we have the assistance of two fine substitutes (Jan Sears and Carolyn May),” Shaw said.

It was Shaw who suggested the name Uprights because of the kind of piano the ladies play “and as a description of how we are to lead our lives,” Knight said.

“We are upright musically and morally,” Shaw said.

Their music includes pop tunes, advertisement jingles, ragtime, waltzes, folk tunes, ethnic melodies and classical composers. Favorites of the group include songs by Andrew Lloyd Weber, Scott Joplin, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Brahms and Mozart. The song most requested is “Edelweiss,” which complements the restaurant’s German fare. The ladies also play several renditions of the “Happy Birthday” song for special occasions, as well as “Happy Anniversary,” “Oh Canada,” “Olympic Fanfare,” patriotic favorites and humorous requests.

Shaw said the owners of the Gasthaus Eichler Inn and Restaurant, Rene and Joan Weder, are very supportive of good music.

Sears, who kicks off The Uprights’ winter season at Gasthaus, is one of the group’s newest members. She grew up in a very musical home and started playing piano at the age of 4. Her grandmother and mother also played piano.

“I grew up in a house where classical music was always playing,” she said. “It’s just a part of how we grew up.”

At first Sears played by ear, “for the fun of it.” She started lessons at the age of 8 and later went on to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and earned a bachelor’s degree in music education. Her main emphasis was voice, with a piano minor. She taught music for almost 30 years in Iowa public schools and has been a substitute music teacher for East Grand Schools for four years.

She joined The Uprights after she was asked to sit in for one of the original four women and has “enjoyed it a great deal” ever since.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of them,” Sears said. She tries to do a variety of piano music when she plays, but doesn’t really have one favorite song in particular.

“It’s not that I don’t have favorites. I have so many,” she said. She likes to play songs by Dave Brubeck and songs from musicals like “Chicago” and “High School, the Musical” that are up-tempo.

“Good melodies are good melodies,” she said.

The piano has become a major player in Sears’ life. “It’d be unusual to not sit down at the piano every day,” she said, and in some ways, now that she’s retired, it has even taken a great role in her life.

Knight also grew up in a musical environment. Her mom was a piano teacher who loved church music. Knight started taking lessons at age 5 with another teacher who really sparked her passion for it. She studied music, especially flute and some piano at Adams State in Colorado. She also continues to take private lessons, “all my life.”

She and her husband were delighted to make Grand County their home so her husband could be a volunteer ski patrolman. The couple has made the county their permanent home for almost five years.

Knight first heard about the Gasthaus needing pianists from a co-worker and friend, and she already knew Shaw, Turnbull and soon after met Maddox. Knight joined immediately, and after running into Turnbull at a music store in the front range, talked her into joining the group.

Knight usually plays on a Sunday, so she usually tries to include “Never on a Sunday” in her performance.

“The piano we play at the Gasthaus is an old upright,” she continued. “I love the history and enjoyed meeting Joyce Engel and hearing about how she and her husband brought the piano up to the ski area years ago.”

The piano has an interesting background. The Engels purchased it used in Denver in 1954 and placed it in the front corner of their new ski shop at Winter Park Resort for anyone to play, including bus drivers who enjoyed it a lot and at popular after-hour parties.

After 30 years in residence at Winter Park Resort, the shop building was replaced by the West Portal Building. The piano, along with all of its stories, was moved to Kings Crossing where it was housed at the Last Waltz restaurant with Howard Cohen tickling its ivories. When new owners replaced the Last Waltz and couldn’t find a need for the piano, it was placed in the Kings Crossing basement.

It had been transformed from a “hideous” reddish brown to bare yellow oak, and had a colorful scene of costumed folk dancers painted on the front of it by ki instructor Guiseppe Olmi, then it was sanded and repainted baby blue, then green. Today, it is white.

The Engels have been loaning the piano to the Gasthaus Eichler where it awaits the Upright ladies and your requests every Friday and Sunday nights.

The ladies also encourage anyone interested to join their Grand Piano Club. The club meets monthly and welcomes anyone. To join, call Turnbull at (970) 887-3789.


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