WILMINGTON — The Murphy Theatre opened its backstage doors Thursday to receive a grand piano onto its stage – not for a single show, but as a permanent addition to the theatre.
The piano is a gift from The Leland Foundation, Inc. sponsored by Kathleen Leland Norman in memory of George H. Leland, her grandfather.
According to Murphy Theatre Executive Director Maretta Alden and Artistic Director Timothy Larrick, the piano will provide the Murphy Theatre with unlimited possibilities for future programming, including live performances such as piano trios, string quartets, and dance recitals, as well as providing the ability to enhance live shows such as the Murphy Christmas Show and Dancing with the Stars.
“We are so excited to have this piano in our theatre,” said Alden. “The phone is already ringing with people inquiring about using the theatre and its new piano for their events. It’s opening up so many new opportunities for the community.”
Larrick combed Southwest Ohio for over two months looking for a piano best suited for the space and acoustics, settling on a 7-foot, 6-inch C7 piano by Yamaha.
“It sounds amazing. The great acoustics built into the theater really bring out the deep rich bass and a vibrant high-end sound that will delight our audiences,” Larrick said.
“The Murphy Theatre greatly appreciates the Leland Foundation for providing us with this timeless gift that will last for years and years and both educate and entertain our community,” he added.
The Leland Foundation was established in 1958 by George H. Leland, a Dayton engineer, inventor and entrepreneur. Recruited to Dayton by Charles Kettering in 1918, Leland went on to start two successful companies, Leland Electric Company and Ledex Inc., and held over a hundred patents.
At one point, Wilmington was home to a division of Ledex, located on Ledex Drive off of Nelson Avenue.
In 2001, Leland’s granddaughter, Kathleen Leland Norman, moved to Clinton County. She became involved with the Murphy Theatre in 2011 when her daughter joined the Murphy Christmas Show directed by Larrick.
Over the years, she has volunteered many times at the theatre, currently acting as Stage Manager for Clinton County Dancing with the Stars, as well as the Christmas show.
Robert Leland, president of the Leland Foundation (son of George Leland, and father to Kathleen) said, “My father established the foundation to donate to good local charities that don’t have national support. We have enjoyed the Murphy Theatre Christmas shows over the years with my grandchildren involved. We have seen first-hand the Murphy’s importance to the community and its demonstrated success at renovation.”
In addition to the Murphy Theatre, the Leland Foundation has made past donations to Leadership Clinton, the Wilmington United Methodist Church, and the first Clinton County Honor Flight in 2016.
“The Honor Flight was a very personal donation, as we were able to sponsor two people in honor of my brothers, Harold Leland and Gerald Leland, who both served in World War II,” Leland said.
Norman added, “I was four when my grandfather died, so my only real memory of him was his funeral. But this family foundation has been my connection to his legacy. I had forgotten my grandfather had a previous connection to the area through Ledex until I was talking to some Honor Flight volunteers, who told me they had worked with my family at the Wilmington plant. I have had many people since then share stories with me.”
George Leland’s son Robert and his wife Nita, granddaughter Kathleen Norman and her husband Tim, and George’s great-grandchildren Jenna and Daniel Norman were all present Thursday to hear the piano for the first time in its new home.