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Why 3 St. Louisans Hauled A 700-Pound Piano Up A 758-Foot Cliff

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Paola Rodriguez
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Jackson Pianos owner Joe Jackson (at right) leads the way up a trail at Pere Marquette State Park as piano movers Matthew Toole (center) and Jason Bussey provide support.

On a cool June morning beside a trailhead in Pere Marquette State Park north of Grafton, Illinois, Joe Jackson and two other men swiftly unloaded an upright piano from a Jackson Pianos van, setting it on a six-wheeled dolly and strapping the instrument into place.

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Paola Rodriguez / St. Louis Public Raido
Joe Jackson (left) and Jason Bussey discuss the best spot on the pavilion for the piano after lugging it up a Pere Marquette trail.

“The piano getting dropped is not a panic point,” Jackson, owner and manager of the St. Louis-based piano company, told his expert companions. “When and if it happens, we’re gonna laugh it off. If we can make it to the top without dropping it more than once, success.”

Despite the very real possibility that the piano might tip over on the way up to McAdams Peak, Jackson and his helpers didn’t hesitate to begin the challenging journey up to the popular hiking destination overlooking the Illinois River. Focused on the task at hand, they took it step by step, helping to guide each other’s footing and direction throughout.

St. Louis on the Air tagged along to document the feat, which was just the latest stunt the Jackson Pianos crew has undertaken in celebration of Make Music Day STL. That’s part of a global effort held each year on the summer solstice, which was Monday.

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Paola Rodriguez / St. Louis Public Radio
Local musicians Ryan Torpea (left) and Alex Sinclair play a duet shortly after hiking up themselves to see the piano.

“Our main challenge now is getting people to put down video games and to get in front of keyboards,” Jackson said regarding his crew’s enthusiastic participation. “To get away from a computer keyboard and onto a piano keyboard is getting harder and harder. And events like this really help to remind people that these acoustic instruments are out there.”

And, Jackson said, “if we can lift it to the top of a mountain, you can sit down and play for 20 minutes.”

On Friday’s show, we heard how the piano hike turned out — and enjoyed some hilltop performances by everyone from celebrated local pianist Al Holliday to a tourist from Florida.

Shortly after the movers got the instrument up to the pavilion the morning of June 14, a piano bench arrived at the hiking pavilion too. So did several local musicians who each took the brightly painted instrument for a spin.

Local Piano Movers Do St. Louis Region Proud For Make Music Day
Listen as STLPR's Evie Hemphill documents a piano's journey up a Pere Marquette hiking trail for Make Music Day.

Pianist Alex Sinclair offered a beautiful and timely rendition of “This Will Be Our Year,” the year that “took a long time to come.”

“Sometimes the joy of hiking and being out in nature for me is pretty similar to the joy that we feel with music,” she said afterward. “And I love that we can tie both things together.”

The upright got a splash of color the day prior to its temporary installation at the state park. Jackson’s daughter, Isabelle Jackson-Cameron, selected a fall theme for the artwork.

“I had several sketches already planned out,” she said of her vision for the painting. “And I was just sort of looking at pictures of Pere Marquette and just finding ones I thought were very pretty and would really match the form of the piano in particular places.”

Her dad described the instrument’s adventure as its “swan song,” noting that the piano might not make it back down the trail in one piece. Reflecting on that, Jackson-Cameron admitted to feeling a sense of bittersweetness about the whole affair.

“I like to think of it as that sweet farewell,” the 17-year-old said. “It’s really gotten a makeover before its final performance.”

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. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. 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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