WISE, VA – Nestled among the Appalachian Mountains in Southwest Virginia, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise has long been recognized for its commitment to excellence in teaching and scholarship. This year, UVA Wise took a notable step toward superior standards in music education with its attainment of All-Steinway School status. The prestigious All-Steinway School designation identifies those colleges, universities, and conservatories that have made the commitment to use only Steinway and Steinway-designed pianos in their classroom, practice, and performances spaces—thus ensuring students, faculty, and visiting artists have access to the world’s finest pianos.
For UVA Wise, the road to All-Steinway School status was paved with a fundraising campaign that spanned two years and that weathered the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, said Dr. Peter Ryan, Assistant Professor of Music and Division of Music Coordinator. But the seeds were sown even earlier—not long after Ryan and his wife, Dr. Hannah Wunsch Ryan, Associate Professor of Music, were both hired at UVA Wise as music faculty—she as a vocalist and choral conductor and he as a pianist. Upon arrival, Peter Ryan quickly observed that the piano inventory at UVA Wise was not up to the standards of the school’s stellar reputation.
“We had a collection of mismatched pianos,” he said. “They were different ages, different brands, and different stages of disrepair. I knew right away there was room for improvement.”
Serendipity then intervened—before Peter Ryan could even begin to develop a plan for improving the piano inventory, he was approached by UVA Wise Chancellor Donna Price Henry, who recalled the success of the All-Steinway School campaign at her previous school, Florida Gulf Coast University, and how much having Steinway pianos enhanced recruiting, enrollment, retention, and engagement.
“She basically asked me what it would take to make UVA Wise an All-Steinway School,” Peter Ryan said. “I knew then that we had the administration fully on board. From there, the wheels were in motion. I reached out to Gary Girouard, Educational Services Manager at Steinway & Sons, and we began to work on the campaign and to identify which pianos we wanted to bring to campus.”
With Girouard’s guidance, UVA Wise’s piano “wish-list” eventually led to the selection and purchase (with the help of some very generous donors) of thirteen new pianos—including four Steinways now housed in Cantrell Hall, the Chapel of All Faiths, and the Gilliam Center for the Arts as well as nine Steinway-designed Boston pianos in classrooms and practice spaces. Peter Ryan and Hannah Wunsch Ryan travelled to New York to tour the Steinway factory and select the first pianos, but as the process advanced and Covid restrictions descended, the selection committee had to get creative. “We selected our last piano via Zoom,” Peter Ryan said. “It was an elaborate effort relying heavily on cameras and microphones.”
“Being surrounded by the world’s best instruments every day has given me many opportunities to grow as a musician.”
The response to the arrival of the Steinways at UVA Wise has been resoundingly positive among faculty, students, and administration, especially this year, as they returned to campus after the isolation of the pandemic to find the new pianos ready to deliver “a more intricate and beautiful sound,” as music student James Stidham summed it up.
“It is a true pleasure and luxury to teach, practice, and perform on the finest quality of pianos,” said Anthony Gray, Instructor of Piano. “It is crucial both for the students as well as my own practice to develop our skills on the very best instruments to see the maximum growth. The difference after practicing on Steinway pianos is easily heard and felt.”
Music student Aimee Larsen agrees. “Being surrounded by the world’s best instruments every day has given me many opportunities to grow as a musician,” she said. “Not only do I get the chance to make beautiful music constantly, but the quality of the instruments motivates me to practice even more. There are many advantages to being in an All-Steinway School but having the chance to reach your greatest potential musically is the largest perk.”
On September 25, 2021, UVA Wise hosted a concert to celebrate its attainment of All-Steinway School status and to dedicate the new pianos to the UVA Wise community. The Pridonoff Piano Duo, composed of Steinway Artists Eugene and Elisabeth Pridonoff, performed repertoire including works from Mozart, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff. The Pridonoffs have performed internationally and have served as music faculty at renowned institutions around the world.
“These pianos don’t just benefit pianists,” Peter Ryan said. “They impact the experience of every music student at UVA Wise, as well as students from the greater campus that take part in music courses. Every practice, rehearsal, and performance that is accompanied by one of these pianos is enhanced.”