Author Kirk Mariner's musical legacy lives on with gift of piano to historic church

(Delmarvanow.com) -- Police diverted traffic on Onancock’s Market Street on Wednesday afternoon as an unusual sight passed through the town.

A crew from Charlottesville Piano Company was moving a 1,100-pound Yamaha C3 grand piano, donated to historic Cokesbury United Methodist Church by Kirk Mariner in his will.

“The story is that the year that he bought the piano, he needed a new car, but he bought the piano instead,” said Anne Barnes, executor of the will.

Mariner passed away this summer after a long illness. A beloved Eastern Shore of Virginia historian, author and Methodist minister, he published dozens of books and articles on delving into the history of the Shore and pastored six congregations in Northern Virginia and Williamsburg before retiring to Onancock.

Mariner was also noted for his music, which he played at benefit concerts for local charities and for residents at the Hermitage on the Eastern Shore.

His Church Basement Songs laced whimsy and humor into insights on the church and delighted audiences in Cokesbury Church for years.

Now, Mariner’s musical legacy lives on in the church as well as the Hermitage, where Cokesbury’s former piano now sits.

Built in 1854, Cokesbury is Onancock’s oldest church. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

The Greek Revival-style building boasts astounding acoustics, thanks to its barrel vault ceiling, and draws musicians from Kiptopeke to the Maryland state line each week to practice with the Orchestra of the Eastern Shore.

The church also hosts concerts throughout the year, including fundraisers for local charities and hours of holiday tunes during the Onancock Christmas Homes Tour.

“It has wonderful acoustics,” said Anne Nock, who helped arrange the move.

Charlottesville Piano Company accepted the tricky task of moving the pianos, which involved moving Mariner’s grand piano from his Onancock home to the church sanctuary; moving the church’s former piano to the Hermitage; and also relocating the church’s basement piano to its sanctuary.

Workers in the third-generation business travel as far as Maine to help customers move their prized instruments, mover Jason Richardson said.

“This was the closest place that would move this piano,” Nock said, and for good reason.

The church entryway has a steep set of stairs with an overhang, which left only a few inches between the piano and door frame as the crew of three used pulleys, dollies and manpower to hoist it to its new home.

“From hardest to easiest, with 10 being hardest, it was an eight, eight-and-a-half,” Richardson said of the move. “It’s all hands on deck” when moving a grand piano.

Now that Mariner’s treasured instrument rests in the sanctuary, it will provide musical entertainment during Cokesbury’s many events.

Those include a concert in Mariner’s memory on Friday, Oct. 27, starting at 7:30 p.m. The Orchestra of the Eastern Shore, with select vocalists, will perform Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in his honor.

They will repeat the performance on Sunday, Oct. 29, at 4 p.m. at Hungars Episcopal Church, in Bridgetown, to honor Stefan Dulcie, a Northampton piano and organ virtuoso who also passed away recently.

“They come from all up and down the Shore, and this has been their practice home for years,” Nock said. “They love the way the sound moves and works in there.”

“It’s a nice circle,” Barnes said of bringing the piano home to the sanctuary where Mariner once performed, and giving the church piano to the Hermitage where he played to lift residents’ spirits.

Delmarvanow.com


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