A New Tuning For an Old Piano


Front Page / Jul. 22, 2010 1:28pm EDT

By Bob Eddy

Patrick Branstetter works on David Atkinson's piano on Riford Brook Road in Braintree. (Herald / Bob Eddy)Patrick Branstetter works on David Atkinson's piano on Riford Brook Road in Braintree. (Herald / Bob Eddy)

In David Atkinson’s Braintree home stands a 6x4x2-foot piece of Cape Cod art and musical history. The century-old upright piano casts an aura about the room, decorated in the folk art style of celebrated Provincetown artist Peter Hunt.

The Lindeman & Sons instrument was owned by Mildred Feldman, who ran the Cottage Restaurant and neighboring B&B where, for many summers, Vaudeville, stage and television star Wayland Flowers rented a room.

Flowers is remembered best for his partner, a potty-mouthed, feather boa-bedecked puppet named Madame Flowers. She was outrageous. Her comments turned heads on Hollywood Squares, but on stage at P-town’s celebrated Pilgrim House, she turned the air absolutely blue. Folks loved her.

When Wayland relaxed, he loved to play the piano, which Atkinson asserts was painted by Mildred Feldman, who studied with Peter Hunt, though even a trained eye would think the resplendent case work was by the master himself.

Well, people age, and pianos do, too. Mildred Feldman and Wayland Flowers are gone. Madame Flowers still sits on a couch on the Cape, but her voice is stilled; it went with Wayland. About 20 years ago, Atkinson was looking for a piano, and a friend said, “Please take this one!”

It was in storage. It was the definition of “shabby chic.” It was perfect for Atkinson, who, like Flowers, plays to unwind and to entertain.

Young Patrick Branstetter came by the other day to try his hand at tuning the old girl. Herald readers will remember that Branstetter, a 2006 RUHS graduate, was a member of Blue Man Group (the youngest ever) from 2007 to 2009.

Cut backs with Blue Man opened the door to Boston’s famed North Bennett Street School and piano tuning for Branstetter. A year into his study, Branstetter found his way to Atkinson’s beloved piece of the past.

Branstetter, who has all the skills required for tuning, regulation, and repair of these instruments, may have met his match with this venerable old dowager. Can the old girl still sing? We’ll keep you tuned.

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