Some people rescue injured wildlife. Others rescue abandoned pets.
Kiki Kaltwasser-Vodapoff rescues old pianos.
“They were all going to the dump, and I thought, ‘this is all so sad,’” the Krestova woman says.
Kaltwasser-Vodapoff came into her unusual hobby after emigrating to Canada from Germany in 2012.
She brought a piano with her from Europe, but her daughter soon needed a better one for her lessons. She began sifting through trader sites online to find a new one.
“I started looking on Kijiji, and found lots of free pianos,” she says. “Nobody wants to move them, so they were just giving them away.
“I thought, ‘these pianos look good, why don’t I get one of these?’”
So Kaltwasser-Vodapoff began picking up unwanted pianos, cleaning or restoring them and giving them to friends or others who would give them a new home.
“I found pianos for friends, and for friends of friends. I was moving them and people would say ‘this is all so crazy.’
“But once you know how to do it, it’s easy.”
Kaltwasser-Vodapoff doesn’t even play the piano — she plays the organ. She says she’s in it to preserve history.
“I am not making any money and I don’t want to,” she says. “I want to save them.”
Then a few weeks ago Kaltwasser-Vodapoff found her holy grail: a listing for a free, 150-year-old Steinway piano.
“I am a Steinway fan. It’s my favourite brand,” she explains. “And this one is very rare. They are usually ‘grand’ or ‘upright’: this is square. This is the first one Steinway produced in New York. So it is super rare. You can’t find them in good shape anywhere.”
This one was also in an unusual place: at the Miners Hall in Rossland. It was in the basement, which has been rented out to be converted to a rock climbing gym. She was told by city officials the piano had to go — either to a new home, or it was going to be cut up into pieces and hauled to the dump.
“I spoke to the people at the Miners Hall, and said someone must be interested. … They said no, everyone asked and no one wants it.”
So Kaltwasser-Vodapoff took it upon herself to save the piano. She called in her crew of long-suffering volunteer movers, who wrangled the 800-pound piece of furniture up a flight of 27 steps and a steep embankment. They put it on a trailer and took it to storage.
Now she has to figure out what to do with her 14th piano.
“I am totally sure that once we have it restored and have the whole history of it, and make it public, we will find a place for it, in a local museum,” she says.
A horse trainer by trade, Kaltwasser-Vodapoff doesn’t work on the pianos much herself. She relies on craftsmen and professionals to restore and tune the old pianos.
But that costs money, so she’s set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for the project.
She figures bringing the piano up to perfect condition again will cost about $20,000. The tuner has to custom-build tools to re-tune the instrument. The ivory keys are chipped, the hammers worn out, and the Brazillian rosewood surface has suffered a lot of indignities in its century of duty in the Miners Hall.
“I will fund the restoration with a little of my own money, but I am a single mom,” she says. “I am not over-the-moon rich.”
Even if she can just get it to usable condition, which might cost about $4,000, and find out more about its history, she thinks it might be more attractive for a local museum.
That’s because Kaltwasser-Vodapoff sees past all the problems to the piano’s origins.
“This piano touched me so much, because I found out when they bought it, it would have cost the equivalent of a whole house,” she says. “So they must have been so proud when they bought this piano for the Miners Hall.
“There were so many shows going on then: busking shows, singing shows, and they would have all played on this piano. They didn’t have radio, they had no internet, so this kind of instrument would bring the community together and have them in one room and be entertained.
“So I totally think this is something that has to be saved.”
Coming from Germany, where 400 or 500-year-old musical instruments are not uncommon, Kaltwasser-Vodapoff says she hopes Canadians will try a little harder to save their musical heritage.
“If people have pianos they don’t want anymore they should think about donating them to schools or kindergartens, or homes for seniors rather than dumping them,” she says.
“Music is peaceful and brings us all together and makes us happy and people can interact with each other, especially when you can sing along to the beautiful sound of an old piano.”