SOUTH BEND, IN — In early 2020, just before a pandemic turned the world upside down, Dean Marvin Curtis of Indiana University South Bend’s Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts was focused on two upcoming celebrations. The first was his own impending retirement—after twelve years as the Raclin School’s dean, Curtis could see his June retirement approaching quickly.

The second was the culmination of a project that had been a labor of love for Curtis for more than a decade—in January, IU South Bend was added to the elite roster of All-Steinway Schools, making the institution one of only around 200 colleges, universities, and conservatories throughout the world with this distinction. IU South Bend now joins Ball State University as the only All-Steinway Schools in Indiana.

From left to right: Joe Visceglie, Meridian Music; Chancellor Susan Elrod, IU South Bend; Dr. Marvin Curtis, IU South Bend; Craig Gigax, Meridian Music; Sally Coveleskie, Steinway & Sons.

Steinway pianos—built by hand using time-honored practices in the company’s historic New York factory—are the gold standard of musical instruments, representing nearly 168 years of craftsmanship and experience. Thus, earning the “Steinway label” by becoming an All-Steinway School requires that a conservatory or university meets rigorous standards. All-Steinway Schools pledge that at least 90% of the institution’s piano collection be Steinway & Sons, and the schools must also demonstrate a commitment to excellence and an unparalleled educational experience.

The second requirement was already in well in hand for Dean Curtis. The IU South Bend Piano Studio, under the umbrella of the Raclin School’s music department, has set a highly regarded standard of excellence for many years. However, when Curtis started his tenure as dean in 2008, he immediately  saw opportunities for improving the pianos available to students, professors, and visiting artists.

“We have a  piano studio here that’s world class,” he said, “and I’ve always felt that our students needed to have world class instruments, as well. But as soon as I arrived in 2008, I realized that our pianos were absolutely not suitable for our program. I thought there had to be a way to elevate the condition of the pianos and let our students have the very best quality instruments. I’m a pianist myself, so I know about Steinway and I know about All-Steinway status. Very quickly, I decided that the goal was to figure out a way to make that happen for us.”

The process by which IU South Bend built up its piano inventory and eventually became an All-Steinway School was unique—and methodical. Rather than raise money through a traditional all-or-nothing capital campaign, Curtis implemented a three-tiered approach that included grass-roots fundraising, soliciting the support of IU’s administration, and—perhaps most importantly—taking advantage of Steinway & Sons’ Festival Placement Program.

“It’s very rewarding, absolutely, that our students have these beautiful pianos to practice and perform on.”

Curtis worked closely with Carmel Indiana’s Steinway dealer Meridian Music to participate in the program, which offers schools the opportunity to lease-then-buy pianos formerly been used in prestigious music festivals. The program provides a stepped approach to purchasing pianos that’s both affordable to music schools and appealing to university administrators.

“Steinway came up with this program several years ago, and it proved just the right approach for Dean Curtis and the Raclin School,” said Craig Gigax, president of Meridian Music. “The Festival Placement Program is quite smart. When festival pianos are gathered up at the end of the summer, rather than leave those pianos sitting in a warehouse unused, Steinway makes them available to schools that have a desire to become an All-Steinway School or that simply want to gradually improve their inventory. The school can borrow a number of pianos, and they agree to buy 20% of the inventory that’s loaned to them each year.”

Curtis saw the opportunity to leverage this program for the Raclin School, and he immediately set the ball in motion. The first step was to have Joe Visceglie, Meridian Music’s Vice President of Sales, visit IU South Bend to conduct an inventory analysis. The loaner program commenced soon after, and over the next twelve years, the Raclin School was able to turn leases into purchases for 17 Steinway and Steinway-designed Boston pianos.

“It really transformed their inventory, and it transformed the experience for instructors and students. Plus, the quality of the pianos on the stage in the recital hall was dramatically improved,” said Gigax. “The program allowed Dr. Curtis to buy pianos and improve the inventory over an extended period of time until they had acquired enough Steinways to be able to be recognized as an All-Steinway School.”

Curtis recalls the last leg of the push toward All-Steinway status. With fifteen pianos already purchased, the Raclin School needed two more Steinways to cross the finish line. “I was down to the last two,” Curtis remembers, laughing. “I was determined to make this happen before I retired. So this is where we got inventive. We ramped up efforts to sell seats in our performing arts center, and that raised a significant amount of money. Then we approached IU’s Academic Affairs department and asked for the money for Steinway-designed Boston. So now we were down to one more piano needed. The South Bend University Arts Foundation Board came through at this point—they donated the final bit of money we needed, and we bought the last piano, a beautiful Model M for our choir room.”

IU South Bend is now only the second school in Indiana to be designated an All-Steinway School, which is quite a legacy for Dean Curtis to leave as he settles into retirement. But he’s quick to deflect credit and to praise the Foundation Board, the IU administration, and the many other people who had a hand in raising funds.

“It’s very rewarding, absolutely, that our students have these beautiful pianos to practice and perform on,” Curtis said. “But I feel I was just doing my job. I’m grateful to everyone who had a hand in bringing this vision to reality. Big thanks go to Joe and Craig of Meridian Music, because without the Steinway Festival Placement Program, we could not have done this.”

Steinway & Sons presented IU South Bend’s Raclin School of Music with the official All-Steinway School plaque on January 31, 2020, at an IU South Bend Piano Series concert featuring Michael Mizrahi and Anthony Padilla.

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