Classical Piano Music at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel

Nancy M. Williams remembers a fond trip of bonding with pianists in a national park.
Ahwahnee hotel

Classical piano music may be found even in Yosemite.

In August, my family and I took our annual vacation.  Throwing caution to the winds–we are quite good at this when it comes to planning vacations–we decided to trounce our budget with a stay at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley.

For the self-delusional at heart, the Ahwahnee provides a host of excuses for overspending. A National Historic Landmark completed in 1927, the hotel evokes the careless, roaring twenties in its Art Deco style.  David, Cal, Mena, and I enjoyed jumping into the small, circular, old-fashioned pool after a day of hiking in what proved to be a heat wave.  In the mornings, I loved hanging out in the Great Hall with its huge stone fireplaces while tour groups with cameras trooped past.

My favorite part of the lodge was the dining room, where we dined every night.

In this dining room in 1983, Queen Elizabeth II ate at the circular table for four in a nook at the room’s far end, the only table with a full view of Glacier Falls.

Subsequently dubbed the Queen’s table, this spot may not be requested but rather is handed out at the discretion of the maitre-d.  Perhaps as a troubling harbinger of our forthcoming credit card bill, at our final morning for breakfast, a beaming waiter led us to the Queen’s table.

Every night at dinner there was live piano music. The piano–a restored and rebuilt 1905 Steinway with a tiger-eye mahogany case, lit by fluted, Art-Deco lamps–was in and of itself a work of art.  On our final evening, we had the pleasure of listening to Christer Norden spin a mix of jazz and classical piano music in his melodious style, including a piano rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.

Now that I’ve become a student of adult piano lessons, it’s difficult for me to see a piano without wanting to play it.  I was tempted to sneak into the dining room in between meals and dash off some of my classical piano music repertoire on the seven-foot Steinway.  But the thought that the piano was historic along with the rest of the hotel held me back.

During one of his breaks, I talked with Christer Norden.  A classical piano musician trained at Berkeley College who also works as a professional photographer, he plays at the Ahwahnee four nights a week.  He spends about six hours on those days preparing and practicing his program.  When I told him about my recent acceptance as a performing member of the New York Piano Society, I saw something flicker across his face, as though he were considering asking me to play.  The moment passed.

Over homemade ice cream for dessert, I told Cal and Mena that perhaps someday we would return to Yosemite with their children.  David agreed.  For this future visit, I’ll call ahead and request some time on the dining hall piano.  Hopefully by that point, the hotel rates will not have increased too much.


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    I am an adult classical piano student at the age of 76. I have reached the level of early intermediate after 5 years of study and feel that I should be much more advanced by now. I read grand piano passion every week and look forward to the next week as soon as I finish the current issue. This week I was thrilled to see that , in one of your articles, “ it’s not how good you are as long as you’re making progress.”

    • Nancy M. Williams, Founding Editor

      Thanks for writing, Lois! Many of our readers and yours truly often feel that we should be more advanced given all of the hours of practice. You may reach a point in the future where you realize that you’ve made more progress than you previously understood. In either case, it’s so true that level doesn’t matter…it’s all about commitment and progress. It’s inspiring that you have such a strong commitment to the piano! Sending good wishes for your practice.


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