Keen on Keyboards

La Grange pianist was influenced
by his mother’s love of music

He is helping restore
a pipe organ in Madison

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (July 2010) – John Ball’s fascination with antiques began in his pre-teen years, and he inherited his mother’s love of music even before that. Combining the two interests, he now owns two player pianos that bring back fond memories of songs he heard her play.

John Ball

Photo provided

La Grange, Ky.,
resident John Ball
is a big fan of player
piano music and has
become a local
expert on them.

A pianist and organist, Ball had a decade of classical training. Hearing his mother play the piano instilled in him a love for ragtime tunes. “I’m very much a fan of player piano music,” said Ball.
Player pianos were introduced into American homes around 1900 and produced in large numbers until the 1930s, their popularity declining with the stock market crash. “My mother was raised in that period,” said Ball as to why he was fond of the era.
Originally from Rush County, Ind., Ball recently presented a program at the Oldham County History Center on the progression of player pianos beginning with the oldest roll he had and ending with a modern piece. He is the choir director and organist at the La Grange Presbyterian Church.
Ball owns three pianos, of which two are player pianos. He also owns a 1918 Knabe reproducing piano. In it’s time this piano was “like a computer before we knew what computers were,” said Ball, 58. When new, the handmade piano cost $4,000 and spent most of its lifetime in Philadelphia.
Based on his knowledge and vivid interest in pianos, Ball volunteered to give the program in May at the History Center. “John is an extremely talented musician and one of his areas of expertise is player pianos,” said Nancy Theiss, executive director of the Oldham County History Center. “He has been interested since he was a little boy and he gave us a history of player pianos and the music that was produced for the pianos.”
Ball has been employed by the Miller Pipe Organ Co. in Louisville for the last 15 years as a technician, often repairing and tuning organs and pianos. When younger, his family lived around Madison, Ind., where he graduated from Madison Consolidated High School. He has lived in Kentucky for the last 16 years to be closer to work, first in Campbellsburg before moving to La Grange with his wife, Pamela Boyer Ball.
His wife shares another of his passions, collecting kerosene lamps. “My wife and I both like antiques very much,” said Ball.
The couple owns a collection of 150 lamps, the oldest dating to the 1870s. Many were family heirlooms. His wife is a Henry County native, with ancestors residing in the county since 1790.
“When we built a new house a few years ago, we included a certain area to display the lamps,” Ball said. A 24x8-foot tall area with 36 shelves was included to hold the various lamps, many of which are made from blue, green, clear and amber colored glass.
A unique one the Balls own is a cranberry colored glass lamp. They purchased it not knowing where they would place it, but found it fit perfectly within the new house as a hanging lamp.
“I collected lamps when John and I met,” said Pamela. “Neither of us knew for some time that the other was a collector.” Her favorite lamp is a pink and white Aladdin that “my parents went to housekeeping with in 1936.”
Ball said the lamps still have a practical use. “Occasionally, we use some of them.”
Ball said he has recently been hired as a consultant for the First Baptist Church in Madison. The church is seeking to restore a rare pipe organ. This is a very involved project, since the organ is a handcrafted Felgemaker Tracker Pipe Organ purchased in 1901. A Knoxville, Tenn., company has been hired to repair the organ for $88,000 and the church has so far only raised $20,000 internally. The church members hope to raise the balance of money through fundraising activities. The 1900 organ was purchased by the women of the church, which is now celebrating its 203rd year.

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