Applauding 150 Exquisite Years at Oberlin Conservatory

As seen in the Summer 2016 edition of the Steinway Chronicle

Oberlin alumna Re Zhang
Photo: Tanya Rosen-Jones

The Warner Concert Hall at Oberlin
Photo:Yevhen Gulenko

 

Elisha Gray’s torrid obsession with electricity began at Oberlin College.

In the spring of 1877, the relentless inventor was demonstrating how he could send long distance music over telegraph wires at New York’s Steinway Hall, strengthening an institutional bond that made the Oberlin Conservatory of Music America’s first All–Steinway School.

Twelve years earlier, and just five months after the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, the Conservatory opened its doors to start healing a war-torn nation with a new music institute “for those interested in the cause of the art.”

Letters obtained from Oberlin’s archives by The Steinway Chronicle evidence hallmarks of a highly successful partnership based on patience, compassion, and mutual respect. Howard Cushing, Steinway’s Director of Sales in 1971, put it best when he invited his friend, Dean Emil Danenberg, to visit him at West 57th Street: “It’s been a long time and of course, the latchstring is out and the welcome mat is shining.”

Requests for new hammers along with replacement keys to lock the lid on Oberlin’s prized concert grand went unfilled during the Second World War, as everything from bobby pins to bedsprings were hard to come by.

Nonetheless, the Conservatory amassed an extensive collection of 92 Steinway grands by March 1945. “I cannot but express the wish that you would have a count of the great number of Steinway grands in the homes of Oberlin, which has a population of barely 4,000. The number of Steinway grands owned by the school, we feel, is impressive, but I am sure the number of grands to be found in the homes of Oberlin to be fully as much so,” the school’s director wrote to Alexander W. Greiner, head of Steinway’s Concert and Artist Department.

Steinway relied on the New York Central Railroad to ship its instruments directly to Oberlin, about 35 miles outside of Cleveland.

Today, the city’s population has doubled and the Conservatory possesses 238 Steinways, being supported by an exemplary regional team at Steinway Piano Gallery Cleveland for more than 30 years.

All concert and recital halls, classrooms, teaching studios and most practice rooms are equipped with Steinway grands.

“To play wonderful Steinways at Oberlin, as a teacher and student for 45 years, has been a blessing that has formed my intuition of what pianos can do. With great instruments, one is never done finding that out,” Steinway Artist Professor Robert Shannon tells The Chronicle. “Oberlin is such an idealistic community. To be unrealistic — and an idealistic pianist — is the best possible combination for someone who’s starting out. There is a sense of being nurtured and that everything is possible in this protected environment before you have to go and slay all the dragons out there.”

Sesquicentennial festivities began in October with a new recital series featuring Professor Peter Takács at Carnegie Hall. The celebration culminated over commencement weekend in May with The Grand Piano Extravaganza, starring faculty members playing a staggering number of on-stage Steinways.

Steinway Artists Robert Shannon and Haewon Song perform with the Oberlin Orchestra. Photo: Scott Shaw

Dean Andrea Kalyn
Photo: Tanya Rosen-Jones

 

“For 150 years, the Oberlin Conservatory has sought to instill in our students the highest standards of artistry, as well as the capacity and imagination to create the future of music. That ethos is made tangible in the Steinway pianos that have graced our facilities since 1877,” offers Dean Andrea Kalyn. “The Steinway name is synonymous with excellence. The pursuit of perfection is the company’s deepest tradition, as well as its springboard for innovation. In this, the Oberlin–Steinway relationship is both inevitable and exquisite.”

In the spring of 2016, electricity once again filled the air as Dean Kalyn, Michael Straus, and John Cavanaugh from Oberlin were among the first guests to step inside the new Steinway Hall at 1133 Avenue of the Americas. “Our welcome mat is fresh and shining,” says Sally Coveleskie, National Director of Higher Education Sales.

“It’s made with the common threads of passion and commitment to purpose that Steinway has shared with the Oberlin Conservatory for 150 years. Congratulations to our longest standing academic partner for achieving this most significant milestone.”

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