Tim Heney, a longtime Benicia resident and choir director of St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, will be performing a piano concert at the Fischer-Hanlon House Sunday for the second weekend in a row.
Heney has performed holiday concerts off and on at the historic Victorian home since the ‘70s, but according to Benicia State Parks Association spokesperson Mike Caplin, he has turned it into an annual tradition for the past seven or eight years.
The piano that Heney will be performing on has a long history. It was manufactured by Steinway & Sons in 1866 and shipped from New York to a San Francisco dealer in March of that year. There are no records available to confirm if it was purchased directly by proprietor Joseph Fischer, but the piano has been in the house since 1867. It was where Fischer’s daughter Elizabeth took piano lessons from Hugo Mansfeldt, a student of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt.
Caplin said the piano was a rosewood 7 square, in which the keyboard is not in the center but on the lefthand side.
“There weren’t that many that were manufactured because I guess they weren’t that popular,” he said. “They abandoned that style and went to the standard which you see now where the keyboard is in the center.”
Reports vary as to how many pianos were made in this model, but the general consensus is between three and five were shipped to the West Coast. The piano in the Fischer-Hanlon House is reportedly the only surviving model as the others were destroyed in the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906.
Because of the piano’s age, it only gets played a few times a year, including Heney’s performances. According to Caplin, the piano has not been tuned in a long time so the house has had trouble finding a professional tuner willing to tune it.
“The strings are attached in such a way that they could snap, and if they did it could actually injure someone,” he said.
However, Caplin says the exterior is in very good condition, and the sound is decent despite not being tuned in a long time.
Heney will be performing an array of holiday classics like “Joy to the World” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” Combined with the ambiance of the house, Caplin believes concertgoers will be put into the Christmas spirit.
“It’s very beautifully decorated for Christmas,” he said. “We actually had a professional decorator do the main parlor, so it looks great and smells great and it gives the whole feel of the season. It will put everybody in a great Christmas spirit- Victorian style, if you will.”
The concert will take place from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20 in the parlor of the Fischer-Hanlon House, located at 115 West G St. Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first- served basis. Admission is free, but donations to the BSPA are welcomed. For more information, contact (707) 745-3670.