Special piano melds art and music

Jordyn Sanko
Vernon Filley Art Museum co-directors Brittany Novotny (seated) and Stan Reimer (standing) enjoy the multi-functions of a special clavinova piano, purchased for the museum from funds donated in memory of Dr. James Van Blaricum.

The Vernon Filley Art Museum in Pratt, initially known for its rotating displays of artwork collected by Dr. Vernon and Emily Filley or samplings of current skilled artists, has become a place were visitors may enjoy unique music as well.

Thanks to donations from more than 200 museum patrons, a $5,000 Yamaha Piano Clavinova was purchased as a touching memorial for Dr. James Van Blariucm in 2016. Van Blaricum, a well-loved and respected member of the Pratt community had always admired music, and in the past two years, his wish to have quality music available to the public has come true at the Filley.

“Dr. James VaBlariucm was a very good singer and had a tenor voice. He liked to sing opera,” said museum co-director Stan Reimer. “He would go to California every summer and go to a ten-day musical workshop.”

When the museum board voted to purchase the special piano to honor Van Blaricumt they consulted the family, who all agreed that it was a good way to preserve his memory and love of music.

Not only does it stand as a commemoration, but it has also proven useful and an attraction for musicians, especially in conjunction with recent art events hosted by the Filley.

“Some of the legacy events have featured jazz concerts, cello players from Brazil, Christmas duets and more,” Reimber said. “Either a pianist or accompanist is always playing it.”

Brittany Novotny, also a museum co-director, said a unique function of the piano is that it can play by itself. However, it may be used as a traditional piano, and is indistinguishable from such in both appearance and sound.

“If you had your back to the piano, you would think it was a real piano,” she said. “It plays and sounds like a real piano.”

The special piano has 10 different piano sounds: grand piano, baby grand piano, and it can be programmed to sound like a pipe organ, electric organ, harpsichord. It can even sound like a choir, or act as a speaker.

The piano connects to Pandora via Bluetooth, effectively playing any song fed to it. There is no limit to the genre or number of songs because it has a computer inside it, making the possibilities infinite.

Novotny said the piano is used every day by the staff, pianists and visitors willing to give it a whirl. Just how often and by which function of use is provided by both directors.

For the more than 4,000 visitors to the museum each year, the piano serves as a pleasant surprise and as a remembrance for Dr. VaBlaricum. There is a prominent memorial gold plaque with explanation, and it is announced at every event where the piano came from and why.

The museum has a special gift shop, sculptures, ceramics, lithographs, paintings, drawings, and music, available to the public during open hours.

“I think it’s just exciting to know that the museum will always be collecting art and music of all forms, and sharing those with the public,” Novotny said.