Editor’s Note: This is a special republication of our 10-year anniversary edition of the 1999 tornado titled “Celebrating Restoration.”
By Marlon Scott | Editor-in-Chief in Spring 2009
Tales of the damage caused by the tornado were on the lips of astonished Clarksville community members for many years. Details spoken in awed voices ranged from images of buildings that appeared swatted by giants to cars that were impaled by large trees like spears.
Thomas King, an APSU music professor and co-artistic director at the American Institute of Musical Studies, told a unique story of loss and recovery that occurred as a direct result of the tornado.
Sitting on the stage in the concert hall of the Music/Mass Communications building on Friday, Jan. 22, 1999 was a rare Bösendorfer Imperial Grand piano. When the tornado touched down, wreaking havoc on campus, it set off sensors in the Music/Mass Communications building.
“The sensors in the building thought there was a fire,” King said. “A fire means that all of the water on top of the stage gushes down to put the fire out. We have really hot theatre lights, so there is a tank of water ready above the stage.”
The water from the tank did its job well. According to King, it flooded the entire stage and the rare piano sitting on it.
“[The water] covered the stage, which was wooden. It buckled and had to be replaced. [The water] went into the piano and, also being wooden, that buckled and could not be played again,” King said. “It filled the orchestra pit with water, so it had to be pumped out. It was a lot of water.”
The piano became one item on a very long list of items APSU that would look to replace as a result of the tornado. Though it took years, the university was eventually able to assess all the damage caused by the storm and rebuild or replace what was necessary. However, replacing the piano resulted in a pleasant surprise.
The destroyed Bösendorfer Imperial Grand piano was originally worth $55,000. King remembers the insurance company that was working with the university specifically agreed to replace the original with the same kind of piano.
However, the Bösendorfer is a rare brand of piano made only in Vienna, Austria by a piano manufacturer established by Ignaz Bösendorfer in 1828.
“They had four in the factory in Vienna, Austria,” King said. “The insurance paid for three faculty members to fly to Vienna. They were there four days. They looked at all these pianos, picked one and flew back home.”
King further explained that the whole process took over two years before a new Bösendorfer Imperial Grand piano arrived at APSU. But the APSU music department reaped benefits from the final result.
“By the time we bought the second one, it was worth $175, 000,” King said. He attributes the new piano as one of many ways the university benefited from the unexpected disaster.
“It really turned out to be a great thing because we got a brand new piano,” King said. “Three faculty members got to travel to
Europe and see the sites a little bit as well as pick out [the piano] and they were not spending their own money buying pianos, so that was nice. We all came out ahead.”