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There are some 30 million pianos in the United States alone, ranging from petite spinets tucked into small apartments to imposing concert grands that take center stage at performance halls. Nearly one in 20 people plays—including about 18 million nonprofessional players in the U.S. This versatile instrument has been a hit with musicians and music fans since its introduction in 1709.

To celebrate the 300th anniversary of this popular instrument, Kentuckian Dr. Diane Earle, Professor of Music at Kentucky Wesleyan College, created a performance concert telling the piano’s story through words, images, and music. Highlights of that performance make up the Kentucky Muse documentary “Eighty-Eight Keys, Three Hundred Years.”

Dr. Diane Earle, performing with the
Owensboro Symphony Orchestra

The 30-minute Muse program offers a grand listening tour, from a taste of the harpsichord—the instrument that Italian composer Bartolomeo Cristofori reinvented as the multivolume “pianoforte” in 1709—to performances of excerpts from piano works by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Henry Cowell, and George Gershwin. The Owensboro Symphony Orchestra and conductor Nicholas Palmer accompany Earle on two of the pieces, Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 20 in D Minor and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Diane Earle

Along the way Earle relates the importance of the instrument in her life. “From the time I was 6-years-old and my fingers first touched the keys, I have been in love with the piano,” she says. “It’s been my best friend.”

The piano has also been at the heart of Earle’s studies and career. A Timken Scholar, Earle received a Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance, magna cum laude, from University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Her Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in Piano Performance and Literature were from The Ohio State University, with additional doctoral and post-doctoral study at Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, Music Academy of the West, and Blossom Festival School.

Earle has performed in seven countries and in 27 states, including at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Kaufman Center in New York. In 2008 she performed nine concerts in China and returned in 2009 to give ten performances of her program on the history of the piano.

As a teacher at Kentucky Wesleyan College for 25 years, the education consultant for the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, and a music instructor for RiverPark Center’s “Arts in the A.M.” program, she shares her passion for the piano with students of all ages. “As I think about the evolution of the piano and piano performance in the past, I also wonder what innovations my students will add to this wonderful instrument,” she says.