Player Piano Restoration

   For the very first time at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), visitors will get a chance to listen to our newly restored player piano during Pioneer Days! Player pianos have captured the imagination of so many listeners over the years, with their delightful jukebox capabilities and mysterious inner workings.

   Also known as the pianola or self-playing piano, the instrument reads its sheet music off rolls of perforated paper, with its pneumatic mechanism, pressurized by the foot pedals, pressing the keys. According to Lydia Dyck, donor of our newly restored instrument, the pneumatic mechanism was taken out of this piano by her father when she was a child, so as to remove distractions and encourage serious practice. This last year, Lydia enlisted the expertise of Gerry Neufeld to restore the original mechanism. After many hours of complex work, he has successfully brought the piano back to full functionality.

   This player piano was purchased by Elizabeth (Penner) Hamm between 1923 and 1934, when she was a young woman. Elizabeth migrated from Russia to Canada in 1905 as a baby, with her mother and grandparents. When she was seventeen she attended Normal School in Regina and became a teacher. She taught for eleven years in one-room schools in the Herbert, Saskatchewan, area. It was during her teaching years that she decided to buy this player piano.

   From an early age, Elizabeth’s daughter, Lydia, loved music. She took lessons and practiced on this piano, later teaching many of her students on it as well. She completed her Bachelor of Education with a Music Major and went on to study harmony and take her Grade 10 piano program at the University of Edmonton. Lydia married Henry Dyck, and in 1976 they moved from Saskatoon to Steinbach. In Steinbach, Lydia began teaching music and giving piano lessons full time. She taught choir and band and learned to play several more instruments.

   When Lydia donated her player piano to the museum in 2010, she explained its significance to her family’s history and to her own story and faith: “When I look at this antique player piano and its story, I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to learn not only notes with it but also develop the gifts I had within me, and to share the music with a wide area of musicians in our southern Manitoba area today. Out of gratitude I choose to have this piano at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum as a symbol, when I am gone, of what God can do if we give what we have for others.”

   We would like to express our thanks to Lydia Dyck for donating this artifact to our collection at Mennonite Heritage Village and also to Gerry Neufeld for his enthusiasm for the project and the countless hours of volunteer time he gave to restore this piano to playing condition. Please join us in the MHV Auditorium for a demonstration featuring this unique artifact on Friday, July 31, at 3:30; Saturday, August 1, at 3:00; and Monday, August 3, at 3:00.

Calendar of Events

July 31-August 3 – Pioneer Days (10:00–6:00 daily)

July 31, August 1 & 3 – Player-Piano Demo with Gerry Neufeld

August 10-14 – Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 9-12

September 7 – Fall on the Farm (10:00-5:00)

September 9 – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

September 20 – Supper From the Field

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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