Posted by Mindy

During October I was gifted with the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. with my husband.  I was so excited to be able to explore this treasure trove of a city!  Many hours were spent in the various Smithsonian Museum collections, but even so, I only skimmed the surface.  While in the American History Museum, I stumbled upon a small collection of the Smithsonian’s decorated instruments.  Here’s one piano which I found compelling.

As I studied this piano, decorated very much in keeping with it’s day, I wondered what music would have been played on it.  Ah ha! Here’s a moving song which suits it:  “God Bless America.” Irving Berlin originally wrote the song in 1918 for one of his Ziegfield Follies shows while serving in the U.S. Army.  As the song didn’t really fit with the show, he set it aside.   Being Jewish and a first-generation European immigrant, he became concerned about the rising power of Hitler and dark clouds of coming war.  In the fall of 1938 he decided to revive the song as a “peace song,” introducing it on an Armistice Day (aka Veteran’s Day) broadcast, sung by Kate Smith on her radio show.  He tweaked the words just a little bit, but also created a full orchestral arrangement specifically for Kate Smith’s program that day.  The song became an immediate sensation with a great demand for the sheet music.  Who knows if the song itself weren’t played on this piano?

If you would like to see the original score in the composer’s own hand, you can visit the Library of Congress page.  (Now I know where else I need to go explore the next time I’m in DC!)

The sign in front of it reads: This grand piano was commissioned to represent American industrial progress in the American Pavillion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Its elegant Art Deco case was designed by pioneering industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague (1883 – 1960.) Steinway and Sons built the instrument in 1939.

Notice the beautiful Art Deco trimmings: the border of stars and the eagle with its wings uplifted.