Alicia Nuccilli’s Steinway piano sits at The Piano Place March 30 before being shipped off to have the wood refinished.

Alicia Nuccilli’s Steinway piano sits at The Piano Place March 30 before being shipped off to have the wood refinished.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Southfield woman seeks help in restoring historic piano

By: Jacob Herbert, Jonathan Shead | Southfield Sun | Published April 10, 2021

 New, custom strings will need to be outfitted onto Nuccilli’s Steinway piano to complete the restoration process.

New, custom strings will need to be outfitted onto Nuccilli’s Steinway piano to complete the restoration process.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 The Piano Place is located at 1307 E. Maple Road.

The Piano Place is located at 1307 E. Maple Road.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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SOUTHFIELD — For as long as she can remember, the sound of a Steinway piano has been a part of Alicia Nuccilli’s life. Her father, Ed Nuccilli, was a well-known jazz artist in Detroit who worked with several Motown superstars, like Smokey Robinson.

“My dad used that piano. It was his work,” Alicia Nuccilli said about the piano, built in 1889. “He was a lifelong musician. All I remember every day is hearing him on the piano. There wasn’t a day that went by where that piano wasn’t played.”

After both of Nuccilli’s parents died, she inherited the house she grew up in and the historical piano.

Unfortunately, the Southfield home that Nuccilli currently lives in is too small to house the piano, so it was shipped off to Richard Bittner, owner of The Piano Place in Troy, for storage and potential restoration. Bittner has been working on pianos since 1978.

As a way to honor her father, Alicia is hoping to raise funds for Bittner, and others involved, to restore her father’s piano. The cost was estimated around $15,000, as parts would need to ship from Europe and other parts of the world.

“The whole restoration will cost around $15,000,” Nuccilli said. “I told Richard I wouldn’t be able to pay that unless I found a grant or something. The GoFundMe, I asked for about half of that. I’ve raised a little over $1,000 already. I was able to give him a down payment to start the work with my tax return. I would hate to not be able to finish it because I don’t have the funds.”

At press time, Nuccilli had raised $1,300 of her $6,000 fundraising goal.

Bringing in a piano as unique and historical as Nuccilli’s Steinway to The Piano Place was sure to draw some eyes.

“What a beautiful instrument,” Bittner thought when the piano was initially brought in. “It’s a Steinway. Steinway made some very good pianos in the late 1890s.”

The piano’s unique build creates more of a challenge when attempting to restore it back to its original life, Bittner explained.

“The tune block is the heart and soul of the piano. Without it, the piano is useless, and this one has to have a new tune block,” he said. “Steinway had a special way of doing that. There was no separation from the rim all the way around the front of the piano. … It gives it a special tone to it because of the rim.”

Alongside the tune block, Nuccilli’s Steinway will need to have the strings, which Bittner said are custom made for the piano, replaced as well. The restoration process will begin with the piano being shipped off to have the wood refinished.

Bittner said the restoration will be worth the higher-than-average cost, because “Steinways hold up nicely.”

“The reason why the piano is still sitting here is because it was well constructed when it was originally built,” Bittner said.

If she is able to get the Steinway restored, Nuccilli plans to keep the piano in the family and commission it to a school or concert hall. She said this restoration project was something she wanted to undertake because of how much her father talked about it but was never able to do it due to the cost.

After the piano returns from restoration, Bittner said he’ll house it at The Piano Place, where prospective customers may be able to play it.

“When we get it all together and we have a concert musician come in to play it, it’s quite satisfying,” Bittner said, adding that it makes the work worth it.

Nuccilli called the possibility of seeing this piano get new life “an impossible dream come true.” On the outside, it’s just a piano. But it’s a piano built over a century ago filled with a lifetime of memories. The piano was her father’s legacy, and knowing this would put a smile on his face makes the project worth it.

“Don’t let this beautiful piece of workmanship go to waste,” Nuccilli said. “It’s almost 130 years old, and with the right restoration, it can survive another 130 years.

“From my perspective, I was my dad’s biggest fan of his music,” she added. “As a little girl, not a day went by that I didn’t hear him playing that piano or playing his trumpet. That was a big part of my life. It would mean so much to all of us to have this restored.”

For more information, or to donate to Nuccilli’s fundraiser, visit https://gofund.me/53c33b2d.

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