‘It’s inspiring’: Open Piano Day invites community to play prestigious piano in Wisconsin Union Theater

MADISON, Wis. – As the Wisconsin Union Theater celebrates the 100th year of its concert series, it held an event opening up a historic piano to the average player.

For the past century, the theater’s concert series has brought a lot of talent to the stage, becoming one of the longest running classical music series in the Midwest.

“The concert series has a really long legacy,” said Amanda Venske, a concert series coordinator with the Wisconsin Union Directorate Performing Arts Committee. “The Union is the living room of campus, and having the theater here is really important in hosting classical music.”

Shannon Hall is home to a Steinway Concert Grand Piano.

“It’s the holy grail of pianos,” said Joseph Lecher, a teacher at Hartland Music. “There’s not a lot of performing opportunities on a concert stage with (such) a great instrument.”

“You don’t really come across a 9-foot Grand that often,” said 15-year-old Ben Brandel of Hartland. “This is only my second time seeing one.”

The Open Piano Day Sunday allowed pianists to sign up for a time slot in which they could play the piano on stage. It was an opportunity that Brandel couldn’t let slide, making his family and his teacher, Lecher, proud.

“I thought it would be really cool, which it totally was,” he said.

“The chance to play on a true instrument that’s been played on by who knows how many great artists, it’s a great opportunity,” Lecher said.

“(The piano) has been around since 1991, and every artist that has played it has signed the inside,” Venske said, adding that those names include Olga Kern, Sir András Schiff, Emanuel Ax and Wu Han.

“To be able to play on a piano all those people have played on, it’s pretty cool,” Brandel said.

“It’s inspiring,” Venske said. “It’s an opportunity for them to come into the space and almost act like they’re a performer on our series. One of the most unique things about it is being able to see yourself playing the piano, and see the keys in front of you, but also to look out into the hall and see the same view into the balcony and up into the roof that every other performer sees.”

The hope was to give players like Brandel the chance to be a part of history, as well.

“The piano has not only had so many great performers … so many people have heard it throughout the hall that it really feels like it’s a continuous part of our history,” Venske said.

“You get opportunities like this, you can’t just blow past them,” Brandel said. “You’ve got to take it and just do it.”

The next concert series event is March 5 at the Wisconsin Union Theater featuring the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.