Music students in Jamaica have a Leaside piano shop to thank for the opportunity to unleash their musical potential.
Robert Lowrey, owner of Robert Lowrey Piano Experts, near Eglinton Ave. E and Laird Drive, is shipping used pianos to the tropical island with help from local entrepreneur Bonnie Hoy and Monarch Moving Systems. A total of 21 pianos will arrive at Montego Bay and will be received by schools, churches and community centres.
“Many old pianos just don’t have any value and we’re forced to take them to landfills, which feels terrible,” Lowrey said. “I met Bonnie through our landlord, she does a lot of charity work in Jamaica so we decided this would be a better solution.”
Hoy started a program five years ago in Jamaica giving teachers scholarships to go to college. Through her involvement and her contacts, she helps Lowrey make sure the pianos arrive to the appropriate recipients.
She said the feedback she’s received is incredible.
“I get calls from schools, teachers and principals,” Hoy said. “They plead to be on the list as a recipient of a piano. They’re just ecstatic.”
“One teacher tells me they have a prodigy there. The student’s only been learning for a year and a half and he’s already playing Mozart’s 5th Concerto.”
This is the second year Lowrey has shipped pianos to Jamaica.
Last year he sent 14 and next year hopes to send more. Most of the pianos he sends are from owners wishing to restore or trade-in the piano for a value.
Lowrey said with a cost of about $10,000 to restore a piano, it doesn’t seem feasible for most owners.
“Some of these people who are stuck with old pianos in their homes can take the opportunity to ship them over,” he said. “There will be no problem having a third trip, there’s no shortage of them. We’re going to keep doing it because our customers are slowly finding out about it and want to participate.”
Last year’s shipment proved difficult to process due to customs and other regulations. Though the shipment made it to Jamaica, the total cost was very high.
This year Lowrey and Hoy contacted John Novak, owner of Monarch Moving Systems to ship the pianos at a minimum cost. Novak has also offered to let Lowrey store used pianos in his warehouse.
Novak and general manager Patrick Daley have shared experience shipping items overseas. They provided Lowrey with the shipping container for the pianos.
“Robert and I have done work together in the past,” Novak said. “He asked me to help out so we sat down, spoke with Bonnie and we did it. We want the people for whom these pianos are destined to get them right away. It’s a great cause.”