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Pianos For People’s 300th Donation — A Baldwin From Ballwin — Finds Eager Young Player In St. Louis

Evie Hemphill /
St. Louis Public Radio
Young pianist Amani Dugger tries out her newly acquired piano, which will enhance her practicing capabilities in between weekly lessons with Pianos for People.

Last week, as Laurie Bowen watched movers transport her cherished upright piano from the front of her Baldwin, Missouri, home to the trailer hitched to their truck, she grew a bit emotional. She wiped away some tears.

But they were happy ones, especially as she thought about what the instrument would mean for its new owner, 11-year-old piano student Amani Dugger, who lives in St. Louis.

Evie Hemphill / St. Louis Public Radio
Ballwin resident Laurie Bowen donated her piano last week after deciding it had become “a piece of furniture” and needed to go to someone who would make it sing again.

“I hope she’s as excited about getting it as I am about giving it,” Bowen said. “Whatever it means for her, I hope she gets exactly what she asked for. When I started taking lessons, I didn’t have a piano, and it was very, very difficult to learn it and retain it from lessons week to week. And so I’m hoping this makes her piano playing better and more exciting and more comfortable going to lessons, knowing that you practiced.”

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, we followed the piano’s journey from Bowen’s home to Dugger’s, where its new owner was quick to sit down on the bench and place her fingers on the keys upon the instrument’s arrival.

The piano donation marked the 300th such exchange coordinated by Pianos for People, a local nonprofit that runs piano schools based along Cherokee Street and in Ferguson. And it coincided with International Piano Day, celebrated annually on the 88th day of the year.

Dugger has been playing piano for about five years but previously practiced on a small organ. Only during in-person lessons with teacher Mike Carosello did she have access to the full 88 piano keys.

Evie Hemphill / St. Louis Public Radio
Movers with St. Louis Piano Company made quick work of the Dugger family’s front steps, using ramps as they pushed and pulled the piano up the incline.

With the new-to-her Baldwin now situated in her family’s apartment, “I feel like I can work harder and build up to a higher level in piano,” the Pamoja Prep Academy sixth grader said last week.

“It will help me through a lot of things like stress and boredness. And when I’m sad,” Dugger added. “And sometimes I’ll teach my brothers, but they crowd me, so I have to do one at a time. And I think I can help them learn what I’ve learned.”

Her grandmother and guardian, Pam Dugger, was nearly speechless as she took in the moment.

“I just don’t know what to say,” she said. “I was not expecting a piano that beautiful.”

The elder Dugger said she is hoping to “tickle the keys” now and then herself, and sees the instrument playing a pivotal role for the entire family.

Evie Hemphill / St. Louis Public Radio
Back at Pianos for People’s Cherokee Street headquarters, two other young pianists — 9-year-old twins Simone (at left) and Naomi Walker — celebrated International Piano Day by performing several pieces they’ve recently been working on. Like the Duggers last week, the Walker family was several years ago the recipient of a piano donation through Pianos for People.

“It soothes you when you’re upset,” she said, “and it can just calm down the whole household. Because you can be in a place where everybody is kind of out of control, and then they’ll hear the music on the keys, somebody’ll start tickling the keys, and it’ll just calm them down and they’ll stop and everybody be looking.”

Pianos for People’s executive director, Matt Brinkmann, said he was proud to carry on the legacy of Tom and Jeanne Townsend, who founded the organization in 2012, and to help support the local piano economy as Pianos for People continues to connect piano donors with those eager to become the caretakers of such instruments.

“We hire professional movers for all of the moves to make sure that it’s being done correctly,” Brinkmann said. “The last thing we would want is to have some damage after making a connection between a donor and a recipient.”

Carosello was also on hand to greet the Baldwin alongside his student, Amani Dugger. He joined her for an improvised, bluesy duet on the piano. Afterward, they gave it a name: “Mr. Mike’s and Amani’s Sunshine Blues.”

And indeed, it was the perfect name to pick on what proved to be a beautiful, sunshiny International Piano Day.

To learn more about donating a piano or applying for one, you can visit http://pianosforpeople.org.

Has the local nonprofit Pianos for People made a difference in your life? Tell us your story. Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to talk@stlpublicradio.org or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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