FORESTVILLE, MD. — Suitland High School’s Center for Visual and Performing Arts has set sights on a highly ambitious goal: become the first public All-Steinway high school in the United States. To Ken Boucher, it is a universal standard of excellence he reinforces with his students on trips to All-Steinway colleges and universities. And in many ways, he values the concept as much as the world-class pianos.
Suitland performs Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasia.”
“What they see (when visiting an All-Steinway School) is a breakdown of racial and socio-economic barriers,” says Boucher, who directs Suitland’s magnet music program, where select students from Prince George’s County must first pass an audition. Coming from an urban setting of mostly middle-income African American families, 60 percent of Boucher’s protégés represent the first generation to attend a post-secondary school.
“We expect world-class performances and you cannot get them when you have inferior instruments,” he says.”
The quest for All-Steinway status began after an inventory analysis by the Steinway Piano Gallery-Washington D.C. With some pianos more than 30 years old, “we were not able to function in the capacity required for a performing arts high school,” Boucher asserts. Suitland has almost 20 piano majors and 80 voice majors, and pianos are being played non-stop throughout each school day. “We expect world-class performances and you cannot get them when you have inferior instruments,” he says.
Boucher is quick to point out that 33 of his seniors have generated $5 million in scholarship offers from a host of prestigious institutions including All-Steinway schools like the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Shenandoah Conservatory at Shenandoah University.
“There is a commonality between All-Steinway institutions. As a public high school, we cannot afford to go to the extremes of a college or university, but in an age-appropriate fashion, we have created an environment for young people so that when they leave Suitland to continue their education, there is an expectation of excellence that is made manifest in being an All-Steinway School.”
Steinway Artist Dr. Mayron Tsong from the University of Maryland at College Park, another All-Steinway school, conducted a master class for piano performance majors. “If I had a rickety old piano, I could not get someone of her caliber to come,” he admits. “I only have one Steinway, and she did the master class on an exceptionally good instrument – a seven-foot Model B, which is developmentally appropriate for my students. When they get playing time on the Steinway, they know they are playing something special,” Boucher says.
The Suitland Choir, 84 members strong, at the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History & Culture.
The Prince George’s Coalition for Young Artists, a non-profit organization of parents, recognized a tremendous challenge of trying to raise funds for new pianos through the public school system. Last year, Suitland alum and renowned Bass opera singer Kevin Thompson bolstered those efforts with a special performance in the Annabelle Ferguson Auditorium. “Kevin is a prime example of what we are trying to do for our students – create a pathway to a profession,” says Boucher.
For some, opportunities will surface beyond the concert stage. Boucher recently took his students to explore the music therapy program at Shenandoah University. “Whether someone wants to work in a nursing home or help veterans with post-traumatic stress through music, they have to be well-grounded in their art. Setting a high standard through Steinway is something that they will take with them, regardless of the profession they choose.”
“Setting a high standard through Steinway is something that they will take with them, regardless of the profession they choose.”
He credits Ken Saliba, Executive Director, and Janet Adams Laird, Director of Institutional Sales at SPG, with proactively supporting long-term efforts to grow a music program that is now just four pianos shy of the All-Steinway goal.
“The passionate pursuit of musical excellence that Ken Boucher brings to work each day is evidenced in the highly enthusiastic performances of his students,” says Ms. Laird. “It is a tremendous privilege to be working with him and all the wonderful people at Suitland as they move closer to what will be a historic designation for a most deserving program.”