12 pianos, 470 pianists, 25 years: American Grands returns to ECC

  • At American Grands, there are 12 pianos onstage and two performers on each piano.

    At American Grands, there are 12 pianos onstage and two performers on each piano. Courtesy of Marina Makropoulus

 
By Ann Piccininni
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted1/23/2020 6:00 AM

Grand pianos seem to stick to solo performances, rarely sharing the spotlight.

That is, except when American Grands takes the stage each year at Elgin Community College. That's when a cool dozen of the supersized instruments come together for something akin to a grand piano convention at the American Grands concert.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"There are 12 grand pianos on the stage. There are two performers at each piano," said Larry Dieffenbach, the event's music director. "It's a big auditorium. It's a big stage."

There will be about 470 pianists, a combination of professional musicians and local talent, on stage during the three-performance run Saturday, Jan. 25, with some 24 players on stage for each piece. Performances are at 1, 4 and 7 p.m., and tickets, available online through ECC, are $24 for adults and $15 for children 12 and younger.

Dieffenbach said pianists hail from a total of 50 Chicago-area cities and towns, from as far west as DeKalb. There are even one or two traveling to Elgin from Canada for the event. And the ages and skill levels vary, with each player bringing their own talents to the show.

"Our pianists are 6 years old to close to 80 years old," said Dieffenbach. "Some in the adult category, I think, are professional musicians."

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Up to 470 pianists will perform on 12 grand pianos at American Grands 25 on Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Elgin Community College Arts Center.
Up to 470 pianists will perform on 12 grand pianos at American Grands 25 on Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Elgin Community College Arts Center. - Courtesy of Marina Makropoulus

"Pianists don't often get to perform together like this," said Susanne Kepley, arts center manager. "It's a really fun event. It's multigenerational."

Each piano is assigned a distinct role to play in each performed number.

"It's like going to an orchestra," Dieffenbach said. "We play a repertoire written for piano duets. One part is written for the upper part of the piano and the other is written for the lower part. "

The event is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

"We're inviting anyone who's played in the past. We're having an American Grands reunion," he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In the same vein, the concert will include familiar favorites spanning a variety of musical genres.

"All of the music has been performed before in one of the American Grands concerts," he said.

A sampling of the playlist shows that concertgoers will hear Rossini's "William Tell Overture," Beethoven's fifth symphony and "Jupiter" from Gustav Holst's "The Planets." Also on the bill is "Arabian Nights" from "Aladdin," Elton John's "Crocodile Rock," Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," and "The Raiders March" from the Indiana Jones movies.

"We always open with 'The Star Spangled Banner' and we always close with Sousa's 'Stars and Stripes Forever,' " Dieffenbach said.

Conductor Colin Holman will direct the American Grands performance Saturday, Jan. 25 at Elgin Community College.
  Conductor Colin Holman will direct the American Grands performance Saturday, Jan. 25 at Elgin Community College. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2017

Dieffenbach, who began playing piano at age 7, has been the show's music director for 17 years. He also is one of the performing pianists.

"I've been a performer in it for 24 years, all but one year," he said.

While the grands dominate the show, the performances will be accompanied by percussionist Dylan Good and will be led by conductor Colin Holman.

"We would not be able to have this event were it not for Cordogan's Pianoland," Dieffenbach said. The Geneva company, the show's sponsor, provides the pianos and their transport to the college's 650-seat Blizzard Theatre, he said.

• • •

American Grands 25

When: 1, 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25

Where: Blizzard Theatre, Elgin Community College Arts Center, 1700 Spartan Drive, Building H, Elgin

Tickets: $24 for adults, $15 for children 12 and younger

Details: elgin.edu or (847) 622-0300

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