Steve Charles—Last year, the first “half” of the gift of Jill and John Failey ’72 to Wabash—a new Steinway concert piano—was debuted in Salter Hall by world-renowned pianist Andreas Klein. The blend of the Failey’s generosity and Klein’s virtuosity as he played that new Steinway just a week before students sat at the same piano for their recitals was a great moment for the Wabash music department.

Sunday’s student and alumni recital celebrating the final half of that gift—the restoration of the College’s Bosendorfer Grand Piano—was even better. (See a photo album here.)

The audience was considerably smaller, the level of playing perhaps not on par with Klein’s mastery (though I’ll confess to preferring our students and alumni—they are remarkable musicians in their own right.).

But this was virtuosity of the heart. This was a reunion of teachers and past and present students. This was the restoration of the piano my colleague Nancy Doemel calls “the best example of the way in which Wabash knits together the needs of our students and faculty with the generosity of our donors.” This was a piano worn out lovingly by those students over the past two decades, restored to better than new by piano technician Michael Sowka. The worn-out pieces replaced, the once-cracked sound board repaired but still aged with twenty years of memories—more sonorous, more resonant, and sweeter sounding than any new piano could be.

For men like John Failey and his teacher—pianist, Wabash librarian, and long-time piano teacher Diane Norton—it was, in part, a restoration of the memory of Diane’s late husband, Wabash professor of music Fred Enenbach. A gifted musician, composer, and ensemble director, Enenbach helped obtain this piano for the College in 1983. He was there when the piano arrived at the Chapel, as Nancy Doemel recalled in her fine notes for the program:

“By that time, Fred was extremely ill with cancer, but by the end of the delivery and tuning, he was seated at the Bosendorfer, his head bent over the keyboard, eyes closed, tears streaming down his cheeks, filling the Chapel with the Bosendorfer’s rich sounds.”

Last Sunday, those sounds were heard again. The piano come to life beneath the hands of current students, some of the most gifted pianists we’ve had here in years. And alumni Steve Zusack ’06 and Ken Turchi ’80 returned. A student of Norton’s who took up the piano late in life, Turchi played Aaron Copland’s “The Cat and the Mouse” (a “scherzo humoristique” and the way Ken played it, it was every bit as fun as it sounds!).

Then Failey, who under Enenbach was one of the College’s first music majors,played the final number of the recital, as Norton turned pages for him. And when he finished triumphantly this very difficult Gyorgi Ligeti piece, his teacher by his side and beaming with pride, you couldn’t help but think of Fred Enenbach, the people he loved, the lives he touched, the legacy this instrument represents, and the joy it will bring future students and audiences.

Diane Norton wrote a tribute to Enenbach in the program, which I’ve excerpted here:

“When Fred and I were married in 1972, it was apparent that he had embarked upon a strong campaign to find a wonderful piano for performances, as the instruments we had in the Chapel and Yandes Hall did not meet the needs of a growing department with an extremely active concert schedule.

“When the Development Office provided the means for procuring a fine instrument, it was a dream come true.

“Recently, our daughters Elisabeth Enenbach and Anne Enenbach Gering, reminisced about watching the unloading of the Bosendorfer on the mall in late summer 1983. Fred was in the local hospital receiving treatment. When the call came from professor Stan Malinowski that the piano had arrived, however, Fred’s physician, Sam Kirtley ’71, inserted a shunt in his arm, and the two of us dashed to campus.

“Fred played the opening notes of a Ravel duet the two of us had performed often, then we played through our favorite duet repertoire for about two hours.

“The next time I played the Bosendorfer was for Fred’s memorial concert in the Chapel in March, 1984.”


In photos: John Failey plays an encore, John Adams’ “China Gates”; Failey gets a congratulatory hug from his teacher, Diane Norton; Failey talks after the recital with fellow pianist Kyle Prifogle ’09.