By Poncho Wilson
The last time Donna McPherson’s hymnal-leading hands touched a fresh set of 88 piano keys at Park Street Baptist Church was during a calendar year that ended in those same double digits.
It was 1988.
She was then 17-years-old.
Friday, however, McPherson turned 51.
But as her birthday quietly passed by, a surprise gift bequeathed by a local piano store owner –– culminating an early wish granted and years’ more answered prayers –– will provide McPherson and her fellow congregants ample time ahead to make some robustly joyful noise that no amount of midlife milestone candlepower could ever come close match.
That’s because she and her congregation received the surprise of a lifetime late last month with news that their little Acworth chapel was having an immaculately restored Kimball horizontal baby grand piano wholly donated, professionally delivered, and perfectly positioned upon the pulpit by a local music gallery owner.
Totally free and clear.
And with no proverbial strings attached but for the ones perfectly arranged inside.
“The church sounds and feels amazingly alive again,” said McPherson, a 1989 Etowah High School graduate and former touring gospel musician. “Music brings everything to life, especially since our old upright piano was on its last legs. So I’ve earnestly prayed for years God would someday soon work something out for us.”
Something has definitely worked out for the faithful here at the little 4342 Park Street corner lot house of worship; a little white chapel nestled tidily amongst its residential counterparts whose only Sunday morning decibel competition for more than a century has been that of passing freight trains’ muffled clarions running undeterred through the heart of historic downtown.
But what natural eyes may only see on the surface as a singular act of benevolence from a local piano store owner, its symbolism in both form and function as time and fate deserves a deeper look through a spiritual lens.
One where sharper focus reveals three intertwined trials by fire spanning as many hundreds of years apart as mystic miles closed in the distance to bring these grand trinity tales of faith, music, and worship full-circle.
And, but for one and all, these fateful communions of faithful kindness so intricately interwoven through time and space as to the piano’s internal mechanisms and its final fateful destination itself.
Earlier this spring members of Cartersville’s Center Baptist Church visited Park Street Baptist for its annual revival.
But when Center Baptist members arrived and saw and heard the woeful condition of Park Street’s old upright piano barely carrying a tune, they banded together to form a ‘Pennies for a Piano’ fundraiser campaign.
After making multiple calls to area piano stores for pricing to set their lofty fundraising goal, lifelong Center Baptist member Bob Bearden of Cartersville asked his master musician daughter Julie Bearden Carver, who’s performed across northwest Georgia churches herself and on Broadway in her decades-long career, if she knew anyone nearby who could help.
And she knew exactly who to call: Dan Wilson of World Class Piano Gallery in Woodstock.
“If anyone could help us with our piano project, it was definitely Dan,” Carver said.
But rather than wait for a fundraiser to mature, and with prices everywhere rising sharply by the day, Wilson took matters into his own hands and heart to offer up one of his showroom trade-ins at no cost to Park Street Baptist.
The vintage mid 1970s-era Kimball baby grand valued at $3,000 retail was a perfect fit.
“I’ve been very blessed the past several years,” said Wilson from his piano gallery on Highway 92, humbly tucked away in an older shopping center. “In times like these we need to count our blessings and I definitely have plenty to count.
“There was no better time than now,” Wilson added.
He and his three-man crew even took Park Street Baptist’s old upright away hoping to refurbish it so the congregation could donate it to another chapel in need.
Or, Wilson said, if it can’t be restored to his standards, he’ll pull another trade-in to donate in the old upright’s unsalvageable place.
But this recent fateful delivery only just begins with the Center Baptist Church’s inspiration to act and Wilson’s generous gesture.
A trinity of fateful timelines here traces back to a first trial by fire in the late 1800s, when the W.W. Kimball Piano Company of Chicago burned to the ground.
It was as much a historical loss as a crushing blow to the fine art of piano manufacturing as seated music culture itself back then.
Having then rebuilt its massive factory not long after the fire along Chicago’s Lake Michigan-bordered Melrose Park suburb, the Great Depression, and later two world wars, would follow in apocalyptic threes to decimate supply chains for wood, steel and labor force even way back then.
The totality of these soul-crushing events would nearly extinct one of the most-renowned names in American piano manufacturing history until its heirs merged with Indiana’s Jasper Corp. to form a diversified Kimball International Inc. in 1974.
Five years earlier from Jasper Co.’s Kimball resurgence, in the late 1960s, along the shores of Lake Acworth many hundreds of miles away, another trial by fire smoldered under Park Street Baptist, when parishioners there undertook the time and sweat-equity expense during a small-community-stricken Vietnam War era to rebuild their sanctuary from the ground up and upon actual remnants of the former chapel.
While manpower was in shorter supply back then, faith was at an all-time surplus;
But the most dramatically miraculous of these trinity trials is found in Wilson’s own testimony. himself.
From losing his beloved downtown Rome, Georgia piano stores 21 years ago from financial fallout following the events of September 11, 2001, Wilson would find his industry financially decimated and himself homeless.
He’d barely hang on in the years that followed, until he was able to slowly climb his way back into the piano wholesale business first from his Canton home residence showroom and then into the current Main Street Woodstock gallery he occupies today.
It too has been built from the ground up with his own hands and unyielding artful passion for piano music and manufacturing.
“I’d find myself asking God ‘what have I done to deserve this?’” Wilson recalled from his previous trials in life that would even give Biblical Job a run for his scriptural tribulations.
“But today when I quietly ask God the same, it’s taken on a whole new and positive meaning,” Wilson professed.
Lifelong Park Street Baptist Church member and multi-generational deacon Mark Pope of Acworth was there at the chapel May 24 when Wilson and his World Class Piano crew arrived with the authentically built and gloriously sound Kimball grand.
“Y’all have no idea what this means to our church,” Pope said that early afternoon inside the sanctuary.
“We are forever grateful, and we hope this blessing will pass on others as it has to us.”
To see and hear Park Street Baptist Church’s piano in action with McPherson and her church band
ensemble that includes one of her daughters, visit the church’s Facebook page here at this link: