A piano’s back story

Published 8:15 pm Monday, January 5, 2015

Not many high school pianos come with the history of the Baldwin grand piano that now graces the stage of the Nancy Russell Auditorium at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy.

When the instrument was donated to the school by the family of the late Norma Jeannette, it came with a pedigree and a backstory that are worthy of its new role as a performance piano at the school where some of her descendants studied and taught.

Jeannette spied the piano in the window of a store on Portsmouth’s High Street nearly 40 years ago, her daughters figure. During lunch breaks from the nearby shipyard, she watched technicians working to restore it. And then one day, she noticed something that turned her blood cold: The men appeared about to coat the 6-foot-3-inch instrument in dark paint.

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Jeannette swooped in for the rescue, subverting the plans for the dark paint and ultimately laying down her retirement savings to purchase the instrument. During the years that followed, the piano provided countless hours of enjoyment for the Jeannette’s family, and her talents helped her barter for dance lessons for her daughters and to provide music on the organ at Portsmouth’s former First Congregational Christian Church.

Last month, during a ceremony to mark the donation, one of Norma Jeannette’s daughters, Cathy Huband, played the $12,000 instrument, as did a current NSA student. The idea is that the instrument passes from one family to another, promising generations of musical entertainment to come and a story that will continue to be written for years.