Germantown piano company celebrates 120 years in the neighborhood

This year marks a major milestone for Cunningham Piano Company, as they celebrate 120 years in the Germantown community.

The company, which won a Best of Philly 2011 as “best piano experts” for the second consecutive year, opened in 1891. Originally founded by Patrick J. Cunningham, the store and factory located at 5427 Germantown Ave. are now co-owned by Rich Galassini and Tom Oliver.

Both musicians and music enthusiasts, the duo bought the company in March 2008, and have continued the company’s vision of providing expert craftsmanship to the musicians they serve.

“We are continually learning,” Galassini said. “We have to in order to serve our clientele the best way we possibly can.”

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A team of expert rebuilders is the foundation of Cunningham Piano’s success. Joe Cossolini, has been rebuilding pianos for more than 37 years and has been a featured expert in piano rebuilding literature. Another rebuilder, Jason Andino, who heads the woodworking/belly department at Cunningham, is a second-generation Steinway artisan.

“All of our builders take great pride in their work,” Galassini said. “It’s in their bones. They know the ins-and-outs of this business and they do it because they’re passionate about their craft.”

Though pianos have not changed much in the past century, the tools and techniques used for piano restoration have, so Curt Weissman, vice president of piano technology, has travelled all around the world to deepen his knowledge.

Galassini came into the business by chance after a housemate decided to purchase a used Upright Piano for their house in Fairmount. The piece needed some updates. He had heard of Cunningham, but at the time, didn’t know the technicalities of fixing a piano.

“If you would have asked me where pianos came from, I would say, you know, the piano store or a factory,” said Galassini. “I didn’t have a concept of what went into it.”

Galassini’s co-owner Tim Oliver also studied music in college, but in order to complete his major, he had to choose an instrument. He chose the piano and his passion for the vocal arts brought him to Philadelphia, where he could be closer to a more operatic scene. He began working for the piano company in 1997.

“Every time I had a bad day wherever else I was, I’d go in this crazy piano place and make sure they know my face,” Oliver said.

His persistence paid off and they company eventually created a position for him. By 2004, he was co-owner.

In a time where everything is digitized, Cunningham Piano will soon offer a patent-still-pending “all-in-one” acoustic piano. The “Cunningham Composer” boasts of a touch-screen monitor that will be powered by a Mac Mini. That will allow the user to record directly into programs such as Garage Band and Sibelious. The library component will allow the user to store sheet music and compose music with the touch of a finger.

Tours of the Cunningham Piano store and factory are free year-round and granted upon appointment. “If a mom calls us and says, ‘My child is taking piano lessons, I’d love for them to learn more about pianos,’ we schedule a tour,” said Galassini. The group hosts tours for students, and work with music teachers in the Philadelphia School District as well as local colleges.

“This is history,” said Galassini. “If you’re a pianist, you’ve got to know the history. It’s fundamental to learning music.”

Upcoming Events:

On Sept. 30, The Philadelphia International Music Festival will host a free recital open to the public at 7 p.m. It will feature student pianists who will perform a concerto of choice by memory.

To commemorate the 120th anniversary, Cunningham will also host an Oct. 21 recital featuring Svetlana Smolina, a pianist who has performed with orchestras and in recitals worldwide.

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