Bits 'n' Pieces: Vancouver Piano Hospital holds hometown fundraiser

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 
photoMac Potts plays piano at the School of Piano and Technology for the Blind.

(/The Columbian)

Buy this photo

The recent salsa-tinged fundraiser for Vancouver's Piano Hospital wasn't so hot. Executive Director Jeff Lann was hoping to raise $5,000; instead, the show at Portland's Aladdin Theater lost about $1,000, Lann said.

Why? Because, like it or not, the fan base for this esteemed Vancouver nonprofit — its real name is the School of Piano Technology for the Blind — is up here, north of the river.

The Piano Hospital is one of a kind — it's the only postsecondary vocational school in the world that trains blind and visually impaired people for careers as piano technicians — but there's one way it mirrors many intensively people-oriented nonprofits and services: it loses money.

"We can't afford to hire more teachers, and our students can't afford to pay more tuition," Lann said. There are just six students and one full-time teacher now, he said. "We look to the community to bridge that gap. We couldn't do what we do without community support."

Unfortunately, the community didn't venture over to the Aladdin on March 9. Lann noted that there were several nonprofit fundraisers closer to home that same night.

So let's try this again. On Sunday afternoon, the Piano Hospital is teaming up with the Pacific Foundation for Blind Children — it used to be the Washington School for the Blind Foundation, but its mission has spread south to Oregon and elsewhere too — to host a concert-and-auction spectacular called Three Grands at Fort Vancouver High School.

You might say Three Grands is the slimmed-down cousin of Ten Grands, the annual concert at Portland's Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall that features 10 grand pianos all going at once — played by acknowledged masters such as Michael Allen Harrison and one of his former students, Vancouver's own Mac Potts.

Three Grands will feature Potts, who was born blind and educated at the Washington State School for the Blind and the Piano Hospital (as well as Kalama High School). At age 21, he's already blown crowds away at Portland's Waterfront Blues Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Joining Potts onstage will be Battle Ground native Brent Gjerve, who is blind, autistic and has been called a "piano genius," according to Lann; and Nick Baker of Seattle, who has earned honors for classical performance and released CDs of jazz standards. The concert will also feature singer Darcy Schmitt.

"These guys do rock," said Lann. "You will be stunned by what they can do."

The lively and gregarious Potts, who started off with classical but fell in love with jazz, blues and boogie-woogie, said these days he's busy keeping up with contemporary hits — and making them his own.

"I'll totally take a song and just dominate it," he said, before turning to a piano in the hospital showroom and taking it on a quick musical journey, from Rod Stewart to Mumford and Sons.

The Three Grands event begins with a silent auction at 1 p.m.; the concert is at 2 p.m. Sunday at Fort Vancouver High School, 5700 E. 18th Street. Tickets are $40 per adult and $10 for those younger than 18. To prepurchase tickets, visit pianotuningschool.org and click on the Buy Tickets link. Or visit 3grandstix.brownpapertickets.com.

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.