St. Luke’s Episcopal Church is hosting a piano dedication concert Sunday in honor of Paula Pickett following the recent donation of a Steinway piano.
Ron McEntire, St. Luke’s minister of music, will be performing alongside other local musicians, as the church unveils the new Steinway piano donated by Tim Pickett in loving memory of his wife, Paula Pickett.
Pickett was an active member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church for many years, serving as the chair of the stewardship committee, a delegate to the Diocesan Convention, a Sunday school teacher, and the warden of the vestry.
“She was you everything to us and just always had a positive spirit,” the Rev. Luke Fodor said.
For years, the Jamestown Concert Association hosted concerts at St. Luke’s. Since the church never had a great piano, the association made a deal with Chautauqua Institution to borrow a concert stage D Steinway piano during the off-season for the Institution. McEntire said the piano was “wonderful” for performers; however, the piano was taken away from St. Luke’s for the last time after the Jamestown Concert Association disbanded late last year.
Fodor said he took a picture of an “almost teary-eyed” McEntire holding onto the piano as it was taken away. The picture was included in the church’s annual report, and Fodor put out a request, jokingly saying that the church would be “overwhelmed and overjoyed” if anyone would be willing to donate a Steinway piano, which costs over $120,000.
“To my surprise, a parishioner who had just lost his wife in December, Tim Pickett, reached out to Ron and said, ‘Hey, were you serious about that? Would you really like to have a Steinway? I think that will be a perfect way to remember Paula,’” Fodor said.
McEntire said he told Pickett how much the piano would cost, and two weeks later, Pickett called McEntire to say he had decided to donate the money to purchase a new Steinway piano for the church in honor of his wife who had died from cancer.
“I just about dropped to the floor,” McEntire said.
‘AN INSPIRATION TO EVERYONE’
Following Pickett’s decision to donate the money for the piano, McEntire arranged for a private tour of the Steinway factory in New York City, but his trip was almost canceled by unexpected health complications. A week before his trip to purchase a Steinway piano, McEntire said he woke up and realized something was wrong when he couldn’t read or remember people’s names. After being taken to Urgent Care, UPMC Chautauqua and UPMC Hamot, doctors told him, “There’s something in your head.”
Despite the doctors telling McEntire he needed to have a biopsy, he insisted, “I have to be at Steinway on Tuesday to pick out a new piano.”
Just days after selecting a Steinway piano stage B model, doctors performed a biopsy on McEntire. He was diagnosed with the most aggressive case of Glioblastoma Multiforme on the third anniversary of his son’s passing from the same cancer. Doctors told McEntire he has 12 to 15 months to live, but he said he watched his son pass away four months after being given 18 to 24 months to live.
“I’ve been down this trail before,” he said. “Just as the organ has a quarter million dollar upgrade and just as this arrived, you just got the best instruments of your life and now you’re dealing with this. It’s like the worst possible news and the best possible news all at the same time.”
Despite the difficulty of facing the disease, McEntire is determined to continue performing music and inspiring the community. Sunday’s concert will give McEntire the opportunity to dedicate the piano in honor of the Pickett family with a variety of musical compositions and arrangements for the local community to enjoy. He hopes people will leave the concert inspired and “feeling really good.”
Brian Bogey, minister of music at First Lutheran Church, said people can expect a “wonderful program” from McEntire.
“Ron is such an inspiration to everyone,” he said. “He really is amazing. He’s got such a good spirit. He’s been pure inspiration for so many people.”
McEntire and Bogey will be performing an arrangement together for the closing of the concert. The two ministers of music have performed together many times and believe this concert will be a special event as one of McEntire’s final concerts.
“Hopefully people will come away inspired,” McEntire said. “I don’t know how many performances I have left.”
Both McEntire and Bogey see music as a central component of the church. McEntire explained that music is the part of the worship service that is “modern” and that it allows ministers to combine the traditional texts of scripture with modern instruments and technology.
“The word can be spoken, but when it’s set to music, it comes alive,” Bogey said. “It’s wonderful and music just enlivens the whole spirit of the Christian church. Music is just at the moment, and then after you play it, it’s gone compared to a piece of art. Music is very unique.”
McEntire explained musical performance is something that requires three parts to function properly. He said music requires the instrument, the composer of the musical piece and the performer. He explained that unlike other forms of artistic expression, music has to be recreated every time and is a new experience for both the performer and the audience each time.
‘WHAT GRABBED MY HEART’
Bogey and McEntire are encouraging members of the community to attend Sunday’s piano dedication concert, which they said will feature something for everyone between jazz, concertos and sacred music.
While the bishop will be attending the concert for the dedication of the piano, they explained the event will be “mostly a musical performance.”
Fodor said the concert is a fitting tribute to the legacy of both Paula Pickett and Ron McEntire.
“What grabbed my heart about all this is just the way that humans connect and honor each other and the way that God works things out in ways we can’t even understand,” he said. “These are two people that are so close and dear to me, Ron and Paula, and they’re somehow intertwined in this one instrument, this one gift. We’re here to kind of celebrate life and the impermanence of it all, but also the way in which it’s also everlasting.”
Fodor said the concert will be extra special both because Pickett’s family is coming from Delaware and Florida to attend the dedication of the Steinway donated in her honor and because it could be McEntire’s last concert.
According to Fodor, the concert will tell the story of how each person is a part of a community and how God interweaves each person’s life into a greater story.
“In scripture, we hear Jesus say I am the resurrection of life,” he said. “We know that’s the truth as Christians, but sometimes it’s in the midst of pain and loss that I think our faith speaks the truest. I think there’s something to that in the Christian story. The resurrected Jesus continued to bear wounds after he reappeared to the disciples, and I think that’s true for all of us as well.”
Fodor believes the concert will be an opportunity for the community to celebrate a wide range of bittersweet human experiences, including life and death and loving and losing. Regardless of the experience, Fodor explained each person has a “note” inside of them that has the opportunity to join together in a “beautiful” chord of unity and connection with community.
“One day, we will be part of God’s symphony, and it’s going to be so beautiful,” he said. “I can’t wait for that moment, but in the meantime, I think we use the best of our lives and what might feel like the worst of our lives, but God somehow it turns into something greater and brings it together, holds the joy, holds the sorrow, holds the grief and holds the beautiful love that we have.”