Western Michigan University’s music program ‘auditions’ Steinway pianos

Posted by William R. Wood | Kalamazoo Gazette October 03, 2008 16:40PM


KALAMAZOO — Western Michigan University music professor Steve Zegree grinned like a kid on Christmas Day when he saw the eight, high-end Steinway & Sons pianos Thursday on the stage of the Dalton Center Recital Hall.

“This is fantasy land, man, a room full of pianos,” Zegree said.

Zegree was one of several WMU piano instructors who got the chance to play all the pianos to select one for their studios at the university’s School of Music. Every Steinway is handmade and has a different sound.

“I like a bright sound, a piano that really speaks,” said Zegree, as he sat down to one of the pianos valued at $75,000. “I want a piano I can’t get to the bottom of, that has so much sound, so much potential, that each time you play it there’s more in there to come.”

Trying out a Steinway

The purchase of the eight pianos amounted to about a quarter of a $2 million, four-year replacement program by WMU for pianos, the largest, most expensive and most used instrument in the music school. Each of the school’s 450 students, regardless of specialization, must be familiar with the piano.

The university has raised half of the needed $2 million from private donations, said Margaret Merrion, dean of WMU’s College of Fine Arts, which includes the music school.

“It’s really the buzz, the best thing happening in the School of Music right now,” Merrion said of the acquisition, as she stood among the pianos, most of which still had red felt booties on their brass foot pedals from shipping.

The piano-replacement program represents WMU’s effort to become an “all-Steinway school,” a university that has at least 90 percent Steinway-designed pianos, which include Boston and Essex brands. WMU plans to be the first all-Steinway school in Michigan, and one of 83 all-Steinway schools in the world, Merrion said.

“It brings an instant brand recognition to the school, instant cachet,” said David Colson, director of the school of music, who explained the designation also would help the school attract the best music students.

The university purchased four Steinway pianos last fall, eight pianos on Thursday and plans to get two more pianos next week, which add up to 14 of the 99 Steinway pianos targeted for purchase. The university plans to maintain its collection of 130 pianos but improve it with purchases and trade-ins, Merrion said. Roughly 20 percent of the piano inventory were Steinways, before the replacement program.

Jill McLane Baker | Kalamazoo Gazette The eight pianos that arrived Thursday cost $450,000 and were purchased from Steinway Piano Gallery in Detroit. Five were $75,000 Steinway “B” pianos, one of the largest and most expensive pianos Steinway makes. The other three were smaller $52,000-Steinway “M” pianos.

The pianos will be put in a performance hall, a lecture hall, in studios of the piano teachers and in the practice rooms reserved for the piano students, “so that, from the very beginning, students can have in their ears and at their fingertips experiences with the finest artistry,” Merrion said.

Wilbur Miller, of the Steinway Piano Gallery, was impressed by the school’s plan to specialize in Steinways.

“In a piano town like this,” he said, “this is a wonderful thing.”

© 2008 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.


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