Donated piano has HMS students singing

Hinsdale dad makes sure choir room has instrument worthy of beautiful building

John Cordogan was touring Hinsdale Middle School shortly after moving to town last summer when he stepped in the choir room and immediately noticed the piano.

"It didn't take long for me to know they needed a new piano - I could see from across the room they needed a new piano," said Cordogan, who owns Cordogan's Pianoland with his sister, Dianthe.

Choir director Ashley Sipka remembers the day well.

"I walked in my room and he was just sitting at the old piano, and he was just very energetic and very, 'What's going on with this piano? This thing is a disaster,' " she recalled. "It was just covered in stuff. Basically it was a placeholder."

He told her he thought the room needed a piano as nice as the rest of the building. She wasn't sure what would come of the conversation, but appreciated his persistence.

"He kept reaching out - despite how busy I was - to make sure it would happen. He did his research. He found a donor who was looking to get rid of something, which you can see is gorgeous," she said.

The piano Cordogan procured is a 5'9" Pramberger Signature Series model baby grand piano in satin ebony, which would sell new for more than $32,000. Sipka played a few bars to demonstrate its sound.

"I'd rather have the kids hearing this on a daily basis, a really organic wooden piano," she said. "It just hums differently than my keyboard. It has a lovely tone. I want them emulating that in class."

Sipka wants her 171 students to appreciate more than the piano's great sound.

"I'm doing my best to teach the kids how to take care of it. We have a strict 'no fingers on the piano.' It's funny trying to teach them how to take care of it," she said, as she cleared some books off the top.

"Generally speaking I don't want anything on top of our piano - and I'm breaking my own rule right now," she said with a laugh.

The piano will be a welcome addition for a new accompanist who soon will be working with Sipka to prepare for spring concerts, allowing Sipka to focus on directing.

"It will be like a real choral program," she said.

Although Cordogan has an eighth-grader and a sixth-grader at HMS this year (and one at Madison who will be there soon), his children weren't his sole motivation for making the donation. His father, Gus, a musician who played and taught 12 different instruments, opened Villa Park Music in 1950 after serving in the Marines during World War II.

"He always had a soft spot for teachers, so we always tried to take care of teachers," Cordogan said. "Oftentimes teachers are unfortunately not in a position to have the best tools of their trade that even their students have."

When he and his sister took over the business in 1989, they increased the number of pianos the business was donating.

"Usually we do it in areas that aren't in a position to buy a piano or that are underserved," he said, citing a semi-concert Yamaha grand worth $60,000 that they donated to the Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School.

Cordogan donates some pianos from the store, but many come from families who had to move and couldn't take the instrument with them or those with grown children who don't want it. With 35 years of experience in the business, Cordogan knows which ones are valuable and which ones aren't.

"Schools and churches get asked all the time, 'Do you want a piano? Do you want a piano?' Most of them are liabilities," he said.

Even those that are worth donating usually need $1,500 in work to be ready for an institutional environment, and moving the instruments is expensive as well. Cordogan estimated each donation costs the company $3,000 even if the piano is free.

Cordogan and his sister have extensive connections as the owners Cordogan Pianoland in Geneva, one of the largest piano

stores in the Midwest.

"We rent, we sell digitals and acoustics, new and used, all the different types and do all services - rebuild, refinish, tune, move, appraise and store and rent," he said.

A musician himself (and founder of the Too Hype Crew hip hop tribute band), Cordogan fell in love with the piano as a young teenager after first taking lessons when he was 8 or 9.

"I was not an exemplary student," he said.

A handful of years later he was home alone watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

"I heard that Linus and Lucy song and decided I wanted to play it," he said. "The piano was sitting there and no one was telling me to do it."

He said despite rumors to the contrary, there has been no decline in interest in learning to play the piano.

"Piano is as popular as ever," he said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean