Shannon Funeral Homes Donates Piano to Myakka City Historic School House | Eastern County
As a concert venue, it was odd to say the least.
Sitting in front of a Brambach grand piano at the United Methodist Church in Myakka City, Marilyn Coker had launched into the first song of Mr. Isabelle Ritter’s “Seven Last Words” as an audience of two sat on metal chairs while listening intently.
Coker, 85, might as well have been performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra behind her as she lost herself in the music, her fingers slipping over the keys and her head gently moving forward on certain notes for accent.
Surrounding Coker on the floor were various toys, including a stuffed plush rabbit, a plastic horse on wheels, and a kitchen set. Above the piano were cabinets whose doors swung mysteriously to the rhythm of the music, revealing an oversized clutter.
It was a small storage room that could be described as a closet.
For Coker, however, it was a little piece of heaven.
The audience was Judy and Ray Shannon, owners of Bradenton’s Shannon Funeral Homes. While the Shannon’s main home is in downtown Bradenton, they also own a ranch in Myakka City, which they purchased on Juel Gill Road in 2006. But even before 2006, they had developed a connection with the community. thanks to their friends and relatives who lived there.
The Shannons are familiar with Coker and his role with the Myakka City Historical Society, which for 29 years has worked to restore the Myakka City Historic School House. This restoration should materialize by the end of this year and the result will be a town centre, a museum and a library for the community.
Read more: Myakka horse show raises money for historic school
One of the rooms in the school is the old auditorium, the stage of which is still intact. It will be at the center of community gatherings and has been equipped with a state-of-the-art sound system and speakers.
What the room didn’t have, until now, was a piano.
Ray Shannon was pretty much born into the funeral business when his grandfather Rowland Shannon established Shannon Funeral Homes on 14th Street in Bradenton in 1928 and his father, Joseph, then took over, followed by Ray. Ray and Judy are still involved in the business, but their advanced age means retirement could be in the not too distant future.
Six months ago, the Shannons closed one of their funeral homes, the Westview Chapel at 5610 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton. When Westview Chapel opened in 1973, Joseph Shannon purchased a Brambach grand piano. Ray Shannon remembers the many times his mother, Eugenia, comforted families by playing this piano during services.
With the planned destruction of Westview Chapel, the Shannons could not bear the thought of the piano being flattened with the building. They inquired and discovered that the market for a grand piano was very limited.
Then they thought of school.
“There’s no market anymore because everyone has electronic keyboards, and everything is high tech,” Judy Shannon said. “But we didn’t want to see the piano fall with the building. It would have been horrible.”
They asked Coker if the Myakka City Historical Society needed a piano.
It was music to his ears.
“Every (downtown) should have a piano,” Coker said. “And this piano was built for a bigger space. It sounds huge.”
The piano was shipped to Myakka City United Methodist Church for storage until the new air conditioning system could be installed at the school. The air conditioning system is the last major piece of the restoration project. While the church only had a tiny storage room, it is an air-conditioned room. Only a few pieces of the piano had to be taken apart before workers swung it through a narrow doorway.
Read more: Historic Myakka City school nears end of 29-year restoration saga
When Coker finished playing the cantata for the Shannons, they gave him a standing ovation before returning to the ranch. Once they were out, Coker noted that she was playing the grand piano very lightly, because if she had played at a normal volume, she would have kicked them out of the room.
Coker, who started piano lessons at age 11, has been playing Sundays at church since 1967.
“It’s my passion, music,” she said, sitting on the piano bench.
She had selected Christmas and Easter music to play after the school opened, depending on whether the building opens late this year or early next year.
Now she has a piano to play on.
Once the air conditioning system is completed at the school, the piano will be moved and will then need to be tuned. Coker said that although the piano was tilted to enter the store, only a few notes were a bit off.
She said the piano itself was an expensive purchase in 1973, estimated at over $5,000.
Once moved, she says, it will take her some time to get used to the keys. She usually plays on upright pianos.
“Every piano has a different touch,” she said. “That one, you gotta push a little harder.”
That’s okay, because it will take a lot of practice. If it’s not “Seven Last Words”, it could be “This Old Man”. with lots of kids sitting on the auditorium floor.
“Everybody likes to have a single,” she said.
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