AUSTIN, TEXAS – In 20 years of exploring ways to obtain new pianos, administrators at Huston-Tillotson University likely never pondered the possibility of a miracle. Steinways, however, can motivate humans for reasons unimagined. So when a gentleman stepped into the Steinway Piano Gallery-Austin to buy a new Model B from Matthew Bird, he was stirred by a greater good.
Bird told his customer how the only historically black college/university in Austin had been using pianos purchased during the Nixon Administration. He mentioned an energetic group of students, faculty and staff who traded a well-loved instrument for a new Boston grand, planting a seed of hope with no assurance of harvest.
When the two men paid a visit to the campus, Dr. Gloria Quinlan and fellow music professors could barely contain their emotions upon discovering HTU would be gifted not one or two, but an incredible inventory of 15 new Steinway & Sons pianos.
“Tears of joy flowed freely that day and my reaction was one of sheer excitement for the students.”
The philanthropist who financed the $800,000 acquisition requested anonymity. “He had no ties to HTU and wanted no credit. He just wanted to help. Tears of joy flowed freely that day and my reaction was one of sheer excitement for the students,” said Bird, showroom manager at SPG-Austin. School officials later joined the donor and his family at the Steinway factory to select a Model D and Model B for the King-Seabrook Chapel. Thirteen smaller grands and uprights populate the practice, rehearsal and teaching spaces.
“It really is a game changer for us,” said Dr. Stephen Burnaman, chair of the Department of Humanities and Fine Arts and professor of music. “The addition of all new Steinways makes a statement that we are committed to the future of musical excellence and artistry. This fulfills our vision to be a musical force in the greater Austin community. To have all the money so quickly and to have new pianos all at once, it’s just unbelievable. I don’t think our All-Steinway campaign would have ever happened without Matthew Bird. He is the best!”
The origins of HTU date to 1875, making it Austin’s oldest institution of higher learning. The music program evolved to its present-day incarnation after Samuel Huston College – founded by the United Methodist Church, and Tillotson College – established by what is now the United Church of Christ – merged in 1952.
HTU President Colette Pierce Burnette pointed out that the department is renowned for developing musicians of distinction in a variety of professional fields. “These best-in-class instruments are the perfect complement to the talented and gifted musicians on our campus,” she said.
There are 30 to 40 students majoring in music or music education. “Our piano majors, other music majors and non-majors taking music lessons are in awe of these spectacular instruments,” added Dr. Burnaman.
The new pianos were in place for the annual Charter Day celebration in October, as the university marked its 142nd anniversary with a “Reach for Rhythm” Concert at the chapel, among other activities, to acknowledge the All-Steinway designation.