Meeting a need: Lessons are just the beginning

To an inspired hand, a piano represents hope, possibility, and passion. But sometimes it's just a big piece of unused furniture.


Enter Abigail Needham. The Juilliard-educated rehearsal pianist moved to Charlottesville several years ago to focus on teaching lessons, but soon found that she was getting more than she had bargained for– she claims to have a 600-person waiting list.


On top of that, she came to discover that she had turned into a general purpose piano resource, in part due to notoriety from the popular recital she hosts each spring at the UVA Art Museum." I sold two or three pianos to people... unofficially," she says of her uncanny ability to match buyers and sellers. When asked to help dispose of unused instruments once a student's interest waned, however, she wasn't quite sure what to do.


"Everyone has their grandmother's piano– an upright worth $500. But it's big, it's heavy, no one has a truck, no one is insured..." she says.


Needham's initial lack of interest in this common problem hit a turning point once she realized that promising students don't always have access to an instrument.


"They take lessons at school, they practice hard, and then they go home and– I'm not kidding about this– they practice the piano on a piece of paper," she says.


Clearly, she's still marveling at the thought of fingers silently dancing across a black and white drawing.


"I remember thinking to myself, 'That thing is not making sound, and that kid is an awesome player,'" she says. "I will never forget those kids playing on construction paper."


Needham wants to make sure that her first paper Beethoven is also her last. Having rounded up a truck and a militia of muscle, she now spends her weekends gathering up and distributing entry-level instruments to underprivileged musicians.


"We took 41 pianos to families that need them, and it's so awesome!" she exclaims, shouting in her excitement. "I have cried as we're delivering these pianos. It's amazing. These kids are going nuts."


And it's not over– she has leads on hundreds more, and all she needs is a place to put them.


News of her efforts has been gradually spreading since she began last summer, but now she's going on the offensive. In a striking display of courage, Needham asked the Hook to print her contact information so that she can find the people who need her services.


Anybody in financial need who wants a free piano should email her at She cautions that the instruments might need tuning as much as the students might need teaching.


With that 600-strong backlog, she's not able to provide either, but she's still thrilled to be able to offer free keys. Until then, keep practicing with the construction paper, guys. It won't be long now.


Abigail Needham