Bishop Kevin Vann’s love of the piano began at age 10 when he started taking lessons from his beloved aunt, Sister Mary Margaret Jones, who was a music teacher in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.
In his teenage years, an affinity for player pianos (or self-playing pianos) blossomed, along with the art of rebuilding them.
Today, the leader of our Diocese of Orange has amassed a collection of nearly 3,000 player piano music rolls, which are essentially long sheets of perforated paper wound onto a spool. His vast collection includes tunes from jazz greats Fats Waller and George Gershwin; contemporary artists like Frank Sinatra and Garth Brooks; and Disney classics including Frozen and Cinderella.
The rolls are all categorized according to genre and are displayed in cases throughout his living room. They were acquired over the last 55 years, at various places like music stores, antique shops and eBay.
At the center, sits his own player piano — a 1922 Cable-Nelson — the one he bought for $50 at a neighbor’s garage sale back in 1967. He was 16 years old.
“I found this piano on sale in a parishioner’s garage in 1967 and bought it, then told my mom and dad and they had to haul it home,” said Bishop Vann….
The player piano—which reached its height of popularity during the late 19th to early 20th century —has traveled with him from his home state of Illinois over to Texas where he served as Bishop of Fort Worth from 2005-2012 and had it rebuilt a second time—and finally to his current home of Orange County. And with it, comes treasured memories of youth and family.
….These days, Bishop Vann says he plays his pianos (he has a second one in another room) a couple times a week. It not only relaxes him but brings back memories of days gone by. Guests always ask him to play as well.
Bishop Vann has been collecting music rolls since 1967. His oldest is the World War One-era Pretty Baby which he recently found at a California antique store. His inventory includes many collector’s items like Somewhere Over the Rainbow which followed the Wizard of Oz’s release in 1939. But the one that holds the most sentimental value to him is People (1967) from the Broadway music and movie starring Barbara Streisand, Funny Girl.
The above comes from a July 30 story in OC Catholic.