The Great Piano Drop of 1968

Continued from 5/13 edition

Emcee Paul Dorpat explained how he was worried about injuries during the Great Piano Drop of 1968.

Sure enough, he had plenty to worry about, since overhead things weren’t going so great. The copter pilot was struggling to keep control of the aircraft as the dangling piano, about 100-150 above the ground, began to sway. The pilot was also concerned about the massive crowd below.

piano drop harpThe original piano harp gets loaded onto a truck headed for Duvall. (Courtesy photo).

But Larry insisted they would all get out of the way. “Trust me man, it will be like the Red Sea all over again,” he shouted over the engine noise. The pilot then hit the harness release button but nothing happened. He then hit the emergency cable release and the piano fell free.

“As the piano began to fall, there was a slight separation in the crowd, not too much,” Dorpat remembered. “I wondered ‘What’s to be done – sacrificing a life or two? – but that didn’t happen.’” Smiling softly, he recalled the moment. “I felt I was overseeing a sea of potential victims.

Then there was suddenly the sound of shattered wood – I was completely ecstatic (that no one was hurt).

“It hit a muddy area between the woodpile and where the people were standing. The crowd surged forward and picked up the pieces. The sound was just a big plop (later he referred to it as the Great Piano Flop).
“The crowd grabbed all the pieces, except the harp, which was too heavy,” Dorpat continued. “The harp was later seen being lifted into a VW bus by two hippies. I wrote an article in Helix about it and used the analogy of the Maenads dismantling the god of music – Orpheus.”

As odd as it might seem, the event turned out to be somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. It was a prelude to the 1968 Sky River Rock and Lighter than Air festival, which was the first outdoor rock-jazz festival staged in the country (on a strawberry farm south of Sultan) and not on a rented stage. Two more took place later in the same area.

The location of the piano’s harp was unknown until 2010, when Paul got a call from a widow of a man who had kept it in storage, and offered it to him. Paul retrieved it and eventually put it on display at the Jack Straw Cultural Center, where people could also watch home movies of the “Drop” and read about the history of it as well.

The harp’s long and storied journey is not yet over, however. Shortly after the March 17 discussion ended, Paul agreed to donate it to the Duvall Foundation for the Arts (DFA) at the request of board member Elizabeth Hill. It was moved the following Thursday and is now in storage in Duvall. Plans are to permanently display it at the new Duvall Cultural and Performing Arts Center (formerly the yellow barn) to be built on the south edge of town.
According to Hill, fundraising for the new center continues. This summer, construction will continue for the outdoor area which is expected to be ready for use in the summer of 2020. In January of 2020, the property for the center will be transferred to the DFA. Fundraising for the building is expected to take three to four years.

Once funds are raised it will take 18-24 months to construct. The new center is expected to open five to six years from now.

Duvall has continued to keep the memory of the original event alive by staging a couple of full-size re-enactments (minus the helicopter), plus one on a much smaller scale. The idea of actually repeating it was sparked a few years ago when Andy Weiss discussed his experience at a Rotary meeting. Some members thought it would be fun to do it again, so in 2011, as a Rotary fundraiser, a piano (which was decorated by citizens) was dropped from a construction crane in the Safeway parking lot, attracting some 2,000 onlookers.

The next “drop” was part of a summer event at McCormick Park in August of 2013. Then in 2017, a miniature piano was dropped from a drone during one of the SummerStage concerts at McCormick Park. A group of young children playing in the vicinity retrieved the 3-foot high replica from the grass and brought it back to the drone operator, no doubt puzzled as to why on earth someone would want to drop a toy piano from a drone.

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