Title Image with a Girl in Orange Shirt Playing a Piano

A New Melody

Piano Angels Hit the Right Note…

Pianos are filled with hammers, strings and pedals, of course, but they’re also composed of music, emotions and memories. Which is why when they leave the home, their departures can be a wrenching experience.

As a pianist, Patrick Karch understands that attachment and that’s why, when he’s in a home collecting a donated piano, he makes sure his shirt (and the van parked in the driveway) features the Redding Piano Angels logo. “There are almost always tears,” he says, “and I want to let them know their piano is going to a good home.”

That new home is typically where a young music student, who may lack the access or means to acquire a piano, is eagerly awaiting an instrument to call their own. It’s a win- win scenario: The piano gets a new life and the student gets the keys to a world of music.

“It means the world,” says Jocelyn Olson, a music teacher who has had a half-dozen of her students visited by Redding Piano Angels. “One can’t truly describe the emotions that occur when you have a student who has some talent,butwithoutaccesstoora meanstogetapiano.Thelookon their faces … it’s an amazing feeling.Itcanbringyoutotears.”

Redding Piano Angels was founded in 2014 by the late Frank Strazzarino, the longtime CEO of the Redding Chamber of Commerce who passed away in 2018. Karch says Strazzarino started taking piano lessons later in his life and was inspired to start Piano Angels when he encountered a young student who only had a cardboard cutout of a keyboard to practice with.

When Karch took over as president of Redding Piano Angels in 2018, some 70 pianos had been delivered. Today, that number exceeds 320 and the nonprofit organization shows no signs of slowing down.

In addition to students, Redding Piano Angels has provided pianos for Redding School of the Arts, Axiom Repertory Theatre, Riverfront Playhouse, Manzanita School, Viva Downtown, the Redding Performing Arts Center, several churches and Enjoy the Store in downtown Redding.

People with a piano or electric keyboard they want to donate contact Redding Piano Angels and the organization matches

the instrument, at no charge, with a student on its waiting list. Pianos are collected from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Oregon border.

Karch says pianos are donated forahostofreasons–theyareno longerbeingplayedortheowner has downsized and has no room aretwothatpopupfrequently– and local music stores and moving companies make a lot of referrals to Redding Piano Angels.

Almost all of the pianos arrive with a history, and Karch enjoys digging into each instrument’s provenance. Karch recalls a piano, donated by a Redding East Rotary Club member, that had been manufactured in the former Soviet Belarus and ended up in the home of a Ukrainian woman.

Karch, a Trinity County native, got a call from Weaverville resident John Meckel, who said he needed a piano removed from a rental home. A little research revealed the piano dated back to Henry Meckel, a member of a prominent pioneering family. Unfortunately, the big upright was no longer in playable condition, so Karch plans to transform it into a bookshelf that will be sold as a fundraising project for Redding Piano Angels.

Olson, the music instructor, still marvels at the reconnection that was established when one of her young students, Kat Janicki, received a piano. Kat’s mother, Katie, was thrilled to learn the piano belonged to the grandmother of her former Shasta High School classmate, Lauren Stupek.

The thrills turned into tears of joy when Katie opened the piano bench and discovered her solos from “Hello Dolly” and “42nd Street” – two Shasta High musicals she performed in – as well as some Shasta High Madrigal sheet music she hadn’t seen in almost 20 years.

Karch ends up with so much sheet music that he organizes music giveaways. A donation jar at the first giveaway received $700, he says. Old records, including some vintage 45s, also are auctioned off to raise money for Redding Piano Angels.

Theorganization’slatestsuccess story is its new van, which was made possible by a successful

North State Giving Tuesday and what Karch calls a generous “sweetheart deal” from Randy and Ryan Denham, owners of S.J. Denham Chrysler Jeep Fiat in ReddingandMountShasta.

The van means Karch no longer hastopickupanddeliverpianos with his 2003 Chevy pickup. The venerable workhorse with 300,000 miles on it could not protect pianos from the elements, and its lack of air-conditioning made it less than comfortable during Redding’s hot summers – a fact Karch’s wife, Pam, would frequently point out.

In addition to the Karches, the Redding Piano Angels board of directors includes Valerie Washburn, Elizabeth Waterbury and Lori Goyne. Robert Strazzarino, the founder’s son, serves as a consultant.•


About Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a Redding-based writer with 37 years of experience. A longtime San Francisco Giants fan, his interests include golf, fishing and sharing stories about people, places and things. He can be reached at [email protected]

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