When the University of Central Arkansas’s music department made the decision to become an All-Steinway piano school, they were secure in the fact that right here in town was Barry Bradshaw, a Steinway specialist.
For 30 and more years, Bradshaw and his wife Phyllis, working side-by-side as Bradshaw Piano Service, have taken care of Steinways at colleges across the state and for more than 150 individuals.
They’ve tuned pianos for celebrity clients, including Elton John and John Denver and were given high-level security clearance when Bono and U-2 played for the opening of the Clinton Library.
Pianist Neil Rutman, UCA’s long-time artist-in-residence, depends on the Bradshaws.
But when Bradshaw got a call from Hope, he was eager to agree to rebuild and restore a historic Steinway & Sons 7-foot grand piano for the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope.
Longtime owners and caretakers of the piano, the Friday Music Club, had voted to dissolve its formal organization but wanted to keep the piano active in the community.
They donated it to the UACCH Foundation with a monetary gift to assist with restoration of the piano to a concert level instrument. The Bradshaws were chosen for the task.
The Steinway was purchased by the Friday Music Club in late 1945. It was used for many years in the Hope High School auditorium for clubs and choral groups. The piano was a key part of recitals and Friday Music Club programs at the HHS auditorium for many years.
In the 1980’s the piano was moved from the auditorium and relocated to the Carrigan House.
“By restoring this piece of Hope history back to its former glory, and then placing it in the new Hempstead Performance Hall at the college, this instrument will travel full circle,“ Barry Bradshaw said.
“Having given decades of world class music before, the piano will now be ready for decades more of musical contribution to music lovers of Southwest Arkansas. Hempstead Hall on the UACCH campus will provide a perfect environment to spotlight this classic instrument for future generations.”
Bradshaw says his greatest challenge, however, came when he was recruited to restore a 1,500-lb., 1869 J.A. Gray square grand piano for the Lakeport Plantation, Arkansas’s only Antebellum Plantation home on the Mississippi River.
In the post-Civil War years, the piano was the center of entertainment at the plantation home.
When Bradshaw got the call, he learned that the piano had been lying on its side for 60 years, stored at the Epstein Cotton Gin in Lake Village.
Rodents had chewed on some of the wood; the legs were detached with some damage; the piano’s lid was completely split; strings were broken, and the piano’s rosewood finish was unrecognizable.
Bradshaw disassembled the piano, replaced missing rosewood veneer, cleaned and re-plated hardware, repaired damaged legs, restrung the piano, replaced blue steel tuning pins and restored the rosewood finish to match the faux rosewood doors in the home.
The prized piano is now a featured exhibit at Lakeport, now an Arkansas State University heritage site, open to the public.
The Greek Revival structure at Lakeport is one of Arkansas’s premiere historic structures. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the home was given to Arkansas State University by the Sam Epstein Angel family in 2001.
After five years of restoration work, the home opened to the public for tours, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Lakeport will celebrate its fifth anniversary in September, and the lovingly-restored piano will again be the center of attention.
(Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at email@example.com and 505-1234.)