It’s been a long time coming—St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church of Malibu had spent the last 10 to 12 years planning and carrying out a major remodel of its sanctuary space. It finally got a fantastic deal on a like-new Yamaha grand piano to put in that space, and then the Woolsey Fire happened a week later. The flames crept up to the edge of the new driveway that had been completed just days before, and stopped just short of the church buildings.
Despite the fact that 11 of the 50 active families at St. Aidan’s lost their homes in the fire, the congregation began moving forward in a positive way.
Even before the fire, the church was lucky enough to claim Pete Anthony and his family as longtime parishioners. A Malibu resident and one of the most successful film orchestrators in the industry for over 25 years, with hundreds of top films to his credit, Anthony talked the church into using its new sanctuary to bring more music to the community.
Rev. Dr. Joyce Stickney told The Malibu Times that the church had spent $1 million to widen its long, steep driveway to fire department standards. In addition, working with several architects over time, they changed the light fixtures, the flooring and the heating in the sanctuary. Windows were added to bring the outside in. All of the pews were taken out and replaced with comfortable and movable wooden chairs.
“The pews had been bolted into the floor, and now everything is reconfigurable,” she said. The choir was able to move to a space in front of the church, whereas before, they had to stand in the back.
Anthony thought the space would be perfect as a venue for local concerts and recitals.
“We wanted a piano so we could do more concerts and more different kinds of music in this beautiful room, and use the space for more music making,” he explained. “Recital space is hard to come by in Malibu. You have limited options. And now, this is the best kept secret in Malibu.”
“We want the sanctuary to serve the community. We don’t want it to only be used two hours a week,” she said.
Few people know more about pianos than Anthony, and he searched all over southern California for a deal, with the help of now-retired music minister Sara Banta. He finally found his dream piano for the church at a Steinway dealer and rebuilder in Van Nuys—a seven-foot-long Yamaha C6.
“I called the minute I saw the ad, and told him this was for a church that didn’t have a huge budget. I’m sure he could’ve sold the piano 50 times over for that price by the time I got off the phone with him, but I think he was sympathetic,” Anthony said. “The piano, which was made in 1992 or 1993, looked brand new, like it came out of a time machine. There was not a scratch on it. The piano technician we got to look it over thought it was fabulous.”
“It’s what’s known as a parlor grand or a semi-concert grand,” Anthony explained. “It’s an unusual Yamaha because it has a more subtle sound than other Yamahas. It’s more German-sounding. I have a C6 of my own. It has a beautiful sound, soft or loud.”
“A piano is a living, breathing thing, and a piano that’s being ignored and not played doesn’t do well. We now have a very happy piano that keeps its tuning and is very easygoing. I think of each piano as having a personality with quirks and challenges,” Anthony said.
New music minister Susan De Kam began her duties at St. Aidan’s last May, playing the parish’s new grand piano and organ, and directing the choir. She was one of Anthony’s students at USC, where he serves as part-time faculty in the Scoring for Motion Pictures & Television Program.
The musically talented De Kam already had a Master’s and PhD in Music from the University of Michigan before finishing the USC program. Now, as a freelance composer, she’s already gotten work for indie films, commercials, video games and a documentary.
“One of the big things I want to highlight is that the St. Aidan’s sanctuary is available for recitals for local piano teachers or local students at Pepperdine that might want to perform off-campus,” she said.