by Mariah Wooster-Lehman
My mother, Julia Monteros Wooster, married my father, Charles Chandler Wooster, when he was a 71-year-old widower and attorney and she was his 39-year-old housekeeper from Argentina. I was three years old. They fell in love over a Spanish/English dictionary as they communicated over domestic household chores. Later, he adopted me and was truly the only real “father” I’ve ever known. He was not only 31 years her senior, but also 18 inches taller and the greatest love of her life. He passed away when I was 16.
My mother came from a modest, sometimes tragic, life. By contrast, he offered her love, respect, comfort, stability and a wealth of experiences and joy. He was also the most kind, honest and noble of men; a tall elegant man who appreciated and collected the finer things of life. He was a true gentleman in every sense. Both my mother and I adored him and held on tightly to anything and everything that reminded us of him, including the Steinway, which had been played by his children from his first marriage. So she refused to sell the piano as we moved it from home to apartment and state to state. But, sadly, neither my mother nor I played piano.
My mother, who passed away three years ago, made me vow not to sell the piano; she saw value and beauty in it, but my house had not enough room. So, since 2001 I have paid Farley’s House of Pianos to store it, where it was dismantled and placed on a shelf, a rather depressing home for something that is should be admired, played and heard. The thought of selling this sentimental family heirloom below its value to potentially someone that may sell it for financial gain, and not knowing its future or where it will go just broke my heart.
So, while parting is bittersweet, I am very proud and extremely happy about my decision to donate it to the Mead Witter School of Music. When I thought of this, it was clear that it was the obvious choice as this supported my love and appreciation for music and the arts. Knowing that it will be played by musicians learning and working to build their knowledge and experience in the arts brings me great pleasure. Knowing that its forever home was basically in our own backyard, that it is somewhere permanent, that it will not be resold and that I know where it resides comforts me. Knowing that it is in the good hands of Baoli Liu who will give proper care and refurbish it to its former beauty. In many ways I feel Baoli and UW-Madison have given the piano new breath and restored purpose.
I have finally accepted that the piano will most likely never fit in my life as much as I would like and want it to. My children will never know the sound of those ivories or the opportunity to tinker on those keys. The School of Music is the perfect home for the Wooster Steinway. It will have longevity and purpose. My family memories will live on. But, most of all I will have the pleasure and joy to see and hear it played.
Editor’s note: The restoration of the Wooster Steinway piano is now finished, and the piano is available to be played in practice room 1268.
Images of piano by Katherine Esposito