Columbus State University becomes fourth Georgia music school to be an All-Steinway School.

August 2008, Columbus, GA

CSU becomes fourth Georgia music school to be an All-Steinway School

66 pianos arrive, one concert grand still in production

BY SANDRA OKAMOTO - .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Even though Maxine Schiffman knew that 66 pianos would be arriving at Columbus State University’s Schwob School of Music, she was still awed by the sight of them on the Bill Heard Theatre stage.

Forty-three upright pianos and 23 grand pianos crowded the stage Tuesday morning.

One concert grand piano is still in production in the German factory.

“Can you believe it?” she asked. “The scope of this is unbelievable. I can’t believe they all could fit on this stage.”

Schiffman has said she made the gift through the Maxine R. and Jack S. Schiffman Family Foundation simply because she wanted to do something for the arts in Columbus.

And, boy, did she.

Spencer Garrard, who has been on the board of Friends of Music, said the idea of becoming an All-Steinway School has been talked about for years. The Schwob School of Music becomes the fourth Georgia music school to be an all-Steinway School, after the University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University and Spelman College.

Rex Whiddon, the former chair of the then-Schwob Department of Music, now the director of major gifts at CSU, said he always knew he would find a donor. “I always told the Steinway people that I had a donor. She just didn’t know it,” he said with a laugh.

Finally, in July, he convinced Schiffman that this gift would have the biggest impact on the music school.

On July 15, he was in New York City with Schiffman and her daughter, Mary Beth Schiffman, accompanied by newly-retired CSU piano professor Betty Anne Díaz, Schwob School director Fred Cohen and new piano professor Gilda Goldstein.

There, they toured the Steinway factory, where the entire piano is handmade. Each piano takes a year to build.

The timing was good; the group, along with 63,000 other people, got to see Chinese pianist Lang Lang perform in Central Park with the New York Philharmonic. From their VIP seats, Schiffman said they got to see Lang Lang play the red Steinway piano. They also met the pianist, who was part of the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics last Friday.

The lasting memory for Schiffman?

“The amazing factory,” she said. “Everything is put together by hand.”

“This is the largest gift specifically to the music school,” Whiddon said. “She’s made several transformational gifts. But to give a gift like this is a tremendous investment. We will never be the same. This is a day I’ve dreamed of for a very long time.”

The impact of the gift will be immediate. Every music student has to pass piano proficiency, which means they must play the piano well enough to graduate. Díaz, who will not be teaching at the university, is very happy to see all the pianos.

“I got to see it happen,” she said. While in New York, she helped choose the pianos. She has played all 67 and then some, she said. Yien-Wang, who begins her new position as full-time accompanist this month, is excited.

“It’s the feeling, the touch of the keyboards,” she said, talking about the Steinway pianos. “The sound quality is so different.” Though the fall semester doesn’t start until next week, a piano major was at the Heard Theatre on Tuesday.

“This is terrific,” said Kimberly Rice, a senior piano major who has one semester left at CSU. “At least I’m here for this amazing event. We’re so excited and thrilled to have this huge gift. The Steinways have so much better sound quality and tones. You get this richness of sound.”

Rice said she’ll be choosing a piano in one of the practice rooms and will claim it as her own when she practices.

IF YOU GO What: The first convocation of the semester, Schwob School of Music, Columbus State University When: 1:30 p.m. Aug. 22 Where: Legacy Hall, RiverCenter for the performing Arts, 900 Broadway Tickets: Free Information: 706-640-7227

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