Edgewood Making A Statement With Steinway

SAN ANTONIO — Edgewood Independent School District, one of the city's poorest, made a statement Tuesday night about its commitment to music education.

Its board approved building a new band hall at Kennedy High School — delayed for years, it will come from $13 million it already set aside for new construction — and $150,000 for a Steinway grand piano, the long-awaited centerpiece of the district's fine arts theater.

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It was the piano that caused some trustees to balk, apprehensively questioning the proportionality of its price and benefits. It would take more than three average-valued houses in Edgewood to pay for such an instrument. It'll cost about $125 a year to keep tuned, a Steinway representative estimated. But after a 20-minute debate following a presentation by the Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio, or COSA, they voted 5-1 to buy it.

The pricey piano will be an incentive, trustee Tina Morales predicted, not only for students who qualify for “the privilege of getting to play it” but also for the greater San Antonio community to venture to the West Side to hear performances on it.

The move will make Edgewood almost unique among public school districts here. Only one other, Northside ISD, has a Steinway, a refurbished model at Jay High School that dates to the 1970s, along with grand pianos of other makes at all its other high schools, district fine arts director James Miculka said. So when Edgewood's piano arrives in the next couple of months, one irony won't change: the only Steinways accessible to public school students here will be on the West Side, among the city's more impoverished neighborhoods.

Superintendent Jose Cervantes, whose mantra that Edgewood must provide “a world class education” repeatedly has challenged the way people think about the district, said it was appropriate to acquire what many consider the best piano in the world as part of a commitment to boost music programs. It fills a long-standing void in the district's Fine Arts Academy, he said. Its theater opened in 1999 with a climate-controlled room intended for a high-caliber piano that never arrived.

“This investment is for the students. The Steinway will bring a world-class exposure in music programs to Edgewood students for the next 100 years or more.”


Having a Steinway could bring in revenue from events that use it, Cervantes said. “It'll speak volumes when we'll see our little ones in awe of it, and the whole objective of this is to get them interested in fine arts,” Cervantes told the board. “It's nice that we may have more theater rentals. But bottom line, this is something that is for the students.”

COSA officials said it's the type of instrument that only increases in value and indicated a willingness to provide instruction time and possibly fundraising support. “Those pianos last forever, so it's a good investment,” agreed Robert Floyd, the Austin-based Texas Music Educators Association executive director, reached by phone Wednesday. He called the purchase “pretty forward thinking. ”Trustee Velma Peña cast the dissenting vote. She voiced support for the music program but said later she didn't think administrators explained thoroughly enough how the Steinway would be incorporated in the curriculum for students.

Morales, who voted for it, didn't like the district's plan to send three officials to the Steinway factory in New York to try out and select the piano. It's how Steinway sells its products, which are not stocked for sale in Texas, a company representative told the board.

Music is one way to engage students in a district where most are at risk of dropping out, officials said. Only 1 percent of Edgewood students own a musical instrument — most rely on schools for access to them and some get them as early as the second grade, district fine arts coordinator Emma Dromgoole said. The district is modeling some of its efforts on the internationally lauded program known as “El Sistema,” which originated in Venezuela in the 1970s. It exposes impoverished students to musical instruments as early as pre-Kindergarten to keep them in school. The Youth Orchestras of San Antonio's Music After School Program, or “YOSA Mas,” started its first in-district residency at Edgewood in September, teaching about 50 elementary school students three days a week.

Edgewood plans to tap its healthy fund balance of $45.3 million for the music expenses. It won't have a cost estimate on the Kennedy band hall until the district reviews bids from contractors. Edgewood's other high school, Memorial, has had a band hall for more than a decade, officials said, and the board wanted both to have that option for students.
"This investment is for the students, Superintendent Jose A. Cervantes said. "The Steinway will bring a world-class exposure in music programs to Edgewood students for the next 100 years or more."

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