By MARINA WATERS
Christmas came early for Central Baptist Church this year.
The church recently added a one-of-a-kind Estonia concert grand piano. For Music Minister Tony Martin, the piano is a sight to see, but it also sounds like a work of art, especially when paired with the church’s organ.
“I think the tone of it is very much like a singing, bell-like tone. Especially the upper notes sound like little bells more than they do a piano,” Martin said. “Our organ was built and put in by Colby, which is the organ builder here in Johnson City. Curiously enough, Colby’s is ‘it sounds like art.’ (Estonia’s tagline) is ‘a work of art.’ I think it’s interesting and neat that both instruments have such a similar goal in the companies.”
It isn’t just any piano — the instrument’s build is steeped in European-style craftsmanship that has spanned over four centuries in Estonia pianos. The company only builds 12 of the instruments a year and PianoCraft — a piano store and restoration company in Maryland that has rebuilt pianos for the White House and The Smithsonian — had one that caught the eye of Martin and Central Baptist Church in 2019.
But that was all before the pandemic hit in 2020, which made Martin believe the Estonia grand piano was out of the question — until a representative at PianoCraft called and made them an offer.
“I would never have considered it (during the pandemic),” Martin said. “We were offered an amazing deal. We mentioned it to a few folks (at the church) and they were really excited. In four days we ordered it. It was just a real wonderful gift.”
Martin said he felt that particular piano wasn’t just one the church found to replace one of the concert grand pianos the church had been borrowing; instead, he said, he feels they were led to the instrument on a day when church members learned they wouldn’t be going to Guatemala for their annual mission trip.
“Instead,” Martin said, “we packed 1,000 backpacks to send to Guatemala. In the midst of that, several folks mentioned the joy that was brought to them by doing something, even though we couldn’t go.”
“I got an email that same day from a man in Maryland that represented this piano. He said our name just came to his mind and he either had to ship it back or he could make us a good offer. We really feel like God just led us to this.”
The church also had an attachment to Estonia, the country located about 50 miles south of Finland and home to Estonia Pianos. The country is known for its massive singing festivals and its “singing revolution” in 1988 where Estonians joined hands and sang a patriotic Estonian song in protest of the Soviet rule.
Martin said that years ago members of Central Baptist visited the country and considered doing missions there sometime in the future. He said mostly, the way in which the country received its independence resonated deeply with him and other church members.
“They were told ‘do not sing,’ basically,” Martin said. “(They sang a song) that evokes a lot of patriotic spirit. They ended up doing that and they kept singing for like two days. Estonia truly received their liberation from the Soviet Union block by singing.”
Now with a little piece of the country of Estonia in its pulpit in East Tennessee, Central Baptist Church and those who helped purchase the piano are ready to spread joy during what has been a tough year for so many.
“The folks that gave and purchased the instrument were thrilled to death to be a part of something joyful and positive during this time,” Martin said. “Their hope was that it would continue to bring joy and be a great part of our worship experience here for many, many years.”
Central Baptist has already used the piano to spread joy this year when it hosted a Christmas edition of its Four Pianos in Praise event, which was livestreamed on the church’s website.
Martin said the piano is a way for the church to offer the very best it has to God in the form of worship and praise through song.
“The outlook is that the God you’re worshipping is the highest value that you have in your life,” Martin said. “You seek to perform that worship with your best skills. You want the finest instruments that you are able to have.”
The music that will come from the piano is also a gift the church hopes to keep giving in 2021 and beyond.
“(The piano) is kind of like when you send people to go on a mission trip,” Martin said. “Could you do more for a child in Guatemala by just sending $2,000 than you going for a week? Yeah, technically. But usually the fact that the person goes, so changes their outlook and vision and view of missions, that over the rest of their life, they’re committed in a different way. In the end, more gets done because they went. That’s kind of like this piano.
“Our dream and desire is that it will lead in worship. It will inspire others.”