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College of Musical Arts to replace some pianos, aims to become All-Steinway school

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Posted: Monday, February 11, 2013 1:01 am

Within a few years, students may hear more of a certain distinctive tone ringing throughout the musical arts building— the tone of Steinway pianos.

The College of Musical Arts is working on becoming an All-Steinway School, which means 90 percent or more of the pianos used in the school will be made by Steinway and Sons piano company, said Jeffrey Showell, dean of the College of Musical Arts.

“There’s really no doubt that Steinways are the best pianos in the world,” Showell said. “The best music schools in the country are All-Steinway schools.”

Acquiring more Steinway pianos will give the school an edge in recruiting, Showell said.

“It sends the message that the school is committed to learning at the highest level,” he said.

Showell brought the initiative of becoming All-Steinway when he came to the University about a year and a half ago, he said.

One of the first steps was getting the Moore Musical Arts Center ready to house Steinways. In September, the Board of Trustees approved a resolution to replace the aging HVAC units in the building.

“While the units have been serviced regularly and are reasonably well maintained, the overall performance has been deteriorating along with the physical state of the units,” according to the resolution. “In addition, the College of Musical Arts is planning to become an ‘All-Steinway School’ (piano), and the current climate conditions within the building will not support that designation.”

For a fine piano, humidity cannot change suddenly, Showell said. Showell said the college tries to keep the Steinways in parts of the building that don’t have a radical shift in humidity.

The preliminary work to replace the HVAC is going on now, but the physical work will start in July and will take 18 months, Showell said. The total cost of the HVAC replacement cost $3,051,650 and is funded by the University’s state basic renovations funds, according to the resolution.

Steinways cost about $100,000 to $150,000, Showell said, and the college plans to sell some of its existing pianos as well as trading some in. The initiative is in the beginning stages, as the school is working on raising the money to purchase the pianos and getting to know the donors and people who might be interested in pianos, Showell said.

The college currently owns about 20 Steinways out of 133 total pianos, Showell said. The college’s piano collection is aging, with 29 pianos more than 50 years old and four pianos more than 100 years old, he said. The college will potentially purchase about 100 more pianos, depending on the preferences of the faculty, Showell said.

“It’s not like we’d have to retool the whole school, but it would take about $2 million,” Showell said.

Thomas Rosenkranz, assistant professor of music performance studies, said Steinways are his favorite instrument.

“They’re amazing instruments because of the singing tone they have and because of the wide variety of sounds they can make,” he said.

Steinways can make any sound students can imagine, Rosenkranz said.

“The mechanics of the instrument is so seamless,” he said. “It allows for much more freedom when playing music.”

Steinways are “the last really good American made piano,” Showell said.

“They’ll last forever and that’s not true of most instruments,” he said.

As long as Steinway pianos are maintained and rebuilt periodically, they will last for years, Showell said. This doesn’t apply to all pianos, he said.

“We’re going to have to spend some major money on pianos, we might as well get the best,” Showell said.

Julia Kuhlman, a freshman music education major, said she doesn’t think the college going All-Steinway will be a huge difference, but that it will be a good thing.

“There’s a definite difference in the sound,” she said. “It’s a good thing that we have good quality pianos to perform on.”

When looking for a university to attend, Kuhlman saw that the college was trying to become All-Steinway, but said it didn’t impact her decision.

“As far as learning for students goes, it doesn’t matter,” she said.

Steinways have a lot of wonderful capabilities for expression in them, Rosenkranz said.

“I think if we had more Steinways then our students would benefit greatly because they would be playing on a better instrument,” he said.

Having Steinways would create more notoriety in the piano area, Rosenkranz said.

“It directly impacts piano, but I think it has a ripple effect,” Showell said. “Every student has to learn to play piano.”

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