MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — During World War II, violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who performed for Allied troops, is quoted as saying that soldiers at war become "more contemplative" and "more nostalgic."
"They need inspiration," he said, after visiting the trenches.
It's a message that Dr. Garik Pederson continues to honor with his Victory Vertical Project. The project, a traveling piano recital, made its stop in Memphis at Second Baptist Church last Saturday. By playing the popular music of World War II, Pederson and the project aim to boost the morale of veterans today.
As Pederson plays music selections of the World War II era, he shares the history of the musicians who performed during the time period. Particularly, he brings into focus the history of storied piano manufacturer Steinway & Son's Victory Vertical (also known as the G.I. Steinway), a disposable piano made specifically for troops to participate in merriment while deployed.
Originally forbidden from making pianos to save supplies for the war effort, Steinway was eventually able to sell 3,000 of the pianos directly to the U.S. government from 1941 to 1953. The instruments were fashioned in an inelegant, utilitarian manner, uniform with the design of other military equipment. They came in either blue, olive or gray. Some were even parachuted to bases on the ground.
"It's a different time today," Pederson said. "As far as I know, music making is not a real part of the military, in this day and age."
However, music is still a vital way to keep soldiers' spirits high.
Derek Wrench, an avid piano player and Air Force veteran, was among many members of the armed services in attendance. He said he remembers fondly the way men and women bonded over song during his tours in Afghanistan.
"Even during some of the high-risk convoys that we were doing, the troops found a way to hook up their phones in the stereos of the Humvees so we could listen to sounds while we traveled along those routes," Wrench said.
"Music is huge. It's a universal language, regardless of any social or economic barriers, anyone can understand music."
The recital was brought to Memphis by Laura Triplett of the Greater Memphis Music Teacher's Association.
Triplett's family has followed Pederson's career since she attended a recital of his as a two-month-old. Pederson has continued to correspond with Triplett's family via letters.
Now 47, Triplett became aware of the Victory Vertical Project through Pederson's Christmas newsletter. She reached out to Amro Music Stores, the local Steinway & Sons affiliate, to help bring Pederson and his project to town.
"Now, we have music at our fingertips, all the time," Triplett said. "When I think about (the soldiers of World War II), they didn't have that luxury. I can't imagine the power of that piano must of meant, when they could get to it."
"We consume music so much," Ben Fonville, the piano department coordinator at Amro, said. "(This is) a reminder of the importance of being involved with creating it and performing it, not for any other purpose other than sheer enjoyment and that it's healthy for us."