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--- Updated April 18, 2008

On April 17 at 6:30 p.m., The Erie Housing Authority featured a piano recital on its newly acquired antique Gildemeester & Kroeger grand Piano at the Schmid Towers Community room, packing the room with appreciative seniors.

St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church donated the piano, more than 100 years old, to the Authority. The church’s music director, Mark Alloway, performed the recital.



Performing on the piano, above, with Alloway was Jan Gervasi, also from the church. The two performed piano duets -- one piano, four hands – and solo pieces. They performed show tunes, Broadway, and some light classical pieces.

The antique Gildemeester & Kroeger piano on which they played has done some traveling. Alloway said it started out at St. Paul United Church of Christ, which donated it to St. Patrick Church about 10 years ago. Then it went from St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church to the Erie Housing Authority’s Schmid Towers Community Room. "It was at St. Paul's for a good long time," Alloway said. " I don't know where it was before that. It may have started out there, having been made in New York City more than 100 years ago."

"That piano has a very brilliant sound," Alloway said.

“We’re very fortunate to have it,” said John E. Horan, executive director of the Erie Housing Authority. “We are extremely grateful to St. Patrick Church for their kind donation of the instrument. It will be used well.” Horan said the church needed a larger grand piano, and thus gave to the Authority what Horan considers to be “a treasure” for the residents of Schmid Towers.

An Internet search turned up the piano shown below, which is almost identical to the one given to the Authority (The foot pedals on the Authority’s piano had been removed for cleaning before the recital, as show in the photo above.)



It was listed by a Southern U.S. piano retailer as a "parlor" grand; made of solid mahogany; "rare" and "unusual"; made around 1891: and a good example of a Victorian grand piano made in the Eastlake style.

Gildemeester & Kroger fashioned expensive, high-quality pianos from about 1852 until about 1957.

“Granted, that piano from down south had been restored to like-new condition, and it has been equipped with computerized player mechanisms that play compact discs via wireless remote control, " Horan said. "But otherwise, they are identical. Ours has not been refinished and computerized, but to some people, that is distasteful; antiques are often worth more when they are left in their original state, patina and all.”

An obituary in the New York Times, dated October 6, 1895, states that Henry Kroeger of the firm Gildemeester & Kroeger “has been one of the most accomplished, competent, and practical piano makers in the world. As an authority on the theory of piano making, and an indefatigable worker for the improvement of those instruments, Mr. Kroeger was admittedly the first in the land…. He seems to have had a perfect genius for the study to which he devoted his life.”

“Kroeger was born in Hamburg in 1827, and in that city learned his trade thoroughly, becoming successively a master of every branch and detail of piano manufacturing,” says the obituary. “He came to this country in 1855, and went directly to the firm of Steinway & Sons, who were then doing business on Walker Street.”

It only took Kroeger a few weeks to move from regular workman to foreman in one of the departments, states the obituary, “because he had such a marvelous knowledge of his trade.” It didn’t take him much longer to become the superintendent of factories, a position he held for 20 years, where he oversaw the operation of all of Steinways workshops. He made several innovations that were adopted by piano makers all over the world, including the third pedal, or “sustaining pedal” which by raising the damper from any chord or note desired, sustains and prolongs the vibrations of the stringing, giving a sustained and ringing tone to the notes.

In the spring of 1877, Kroeger tendered his resignation to Steinway, with the understanding that he would stay until they found someone to take his place. It took the company two years to find a replacement.

In 1879 he resigned, and with his two sons, Henry and Otto, formed the piano-manufacturing firm of Kroeger & Sons in New York. In 1891, he took in another partner, P.J. Gildemeester, and thus, Gildemeester and Kroeger was formed.