Whites struck all the right chords in Glenwood
Hilton and Bobbie White are moving about as far away from Glenwood Springs as a person can get. But they’re leaving on a good note.
Hilton White has been in tune with the community through his piano business since 1978. Bobbie, a native of Australia, joined him in 1991. Now the two are selling off their belongings and moving to Tasmania.
“We’re looking for a new adventure,” said Bobbie in her charming accent from Down Under. “We’re going to plant a little garden, get a little sailboat …”
Hilton White Piano Service has been instrumental in the local entertainment scene since its inception. Hilton rents and tunes pianos and has provided pianos for the Summer of Jazz concert series for 17 consecutive summers. Bobbie, a devoted Summer of Jazz volunteer, also served as director for two years and always made sure the stage was perfect for the performers.
Hilton built his business on a $300 loan from an old girlfriend. When his going-out-of-business sale began, he had almost 90 pianos.
“The most fun is in building up the business,” he said. “I started $300 in the hole.”
His piano business was first located at the old Max’s Music, then at the Van Rand Plaza before moving to its current location at 801 Blake Ave. White has sold pianos to people all across the state and has rented to some of the best, including to Ramsey Lewis, Burt Bacharach, Count Basie, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and Dudley Moore.
But the Whites are known for more than pianos.
Their store on the corner of Eighth Street and Blake Avenue is a stopping point for passers-by on their way to town or to work, or simply out for a walk. The metal sculptures by Bill Morrow, a garden that seems to blossom from early spring to late fall in front of the store and inviting patio furniture entice visitors to stop in and mingle.
“I can make about 10 pots of coffee for friends before 10 a.m.,” said Bobbie, offering up a cupful in a black and white piano mug. “We’ve got a great corner here.”
Pianist Jeff Van Devender dropped in on this particular morning. “I just stopped by to say hi,” said Van Devender, who recently released his second CD, “Bending Chords.” Before Van Devender went on his way, Hilton and Bobbie had planned a recital and CD release party for him, some time in late August.
It’s that kind of community bonding that endears Glenwood Springs to this couple.
Hilton met Bobbie in 1991 while he was traveling in Australia.
“We met, he said, `Come to Glenwood … and marry me,'” said Bobbie. “It truly is a fairy tale come true.”
The Whites have visited Bobbie’s family in Australia on several occasions since, and on a recent trip to Tasmania, just off the southeastern tip of Australia, they fell in love with Launceston, a city of about 70,000 located on the edge of a river and near the Pacific Ocean. It’s about as far away from Glenwood Springs as a person can get.
Even so, the Whites say they will stay in touch and already have a Christmas Eve date at their new home with friends from Glenwood Springs.
Bobbie, who has run a sewing and alterations business in her home since moving to Glenwood Springs, will return to teaching high school, a job she held for 26 years prior to coming to the States, and Hilton will open a store, much like Hilton White Piano Service, but on a smaller scale. “I’m almost 60,” he said, “and I’m going to slow down.”
The decision to move was fairly abrupt, said Bobbie. “The way we got married was the way we opened the business down there.”
Before they can leave, the Whites must sell the pianos and vehicles, as well as much of their home furnishings. The first day of the sale they had customers coming out of the woodwork, they said. Several were interested in buying Steinway, the Whites’ black-and-white cat.
“Steinway is not for sale,” said Bobbie sternly.
But Steinway pianos are, if there are any left, as are Baldwins, Yamahas and more. Out in the shop, located across the street from the store, are more pianos, including a 120-year-old rosewood Chickering upright.
“Rosewood is rare anymore,” said Hilton. “Some pianos you just absolutely fall in love with.”
Purchasing a piano is a major investment, he said, much like buying a car. The difference in costs can be thousands of dollars. “Knowing what good piano players want and what they really need is my business,” he said.
The Whites agree that they will miss the people the most, and certainly they will miss being a part of Summer of Jazz.
Through the annual concert series, he said, “we’ve had the high end of jazz.” One of the attractions, he said, is that musicians have a seven- and nine-foot piano available.
Summer of Jazz was founded and is organized by Bob and Mary Noone.
“Hilton is just the most dedicated person to Summer of Jazz that I’ve ever known,” Bob Noone said. Hilton knew the musicians and knew which piano would be best for which artist.
“Every Wednesday the piano was there and every Wednesday Hilton was there to make sure the piano was perfect,” he said. “He basically donated 17 years of his life to Summer of Jazz. How do you replace that type of civic commitment to the event?”
At last Wednesday’s concert, the final performance of the summer, Noone told the crowd that the night marked more than the passing of the 17th season; it marked the passing of an era. “Our lives in Glenwood Springs,” he said, “will never be the same.”
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