VIRGINIA BEACH, VA - Over the past five years, students and faculty at Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia Beach have witnessed a renaissance of energies devoted to the institution’s musical and performing arts programs. Fueled partly by student demand and partly by the passions of committed faculty and administration, VWU’s performing arts focus has soared—so much so, in fact, that VWU has recently witnessed the construction of a brand-new performing arts center and the renovation of two existing venues to provide more support for recitals, theater, and live performances.

The new and enhanced performing arts facilities fast-tracked an effort to bring VWU’s piano inventory up to the standard required by VWU’s long-standing reputation for rigorous, high-quality instruction across all curricula, including music and performing arts. And—in a team effort that reads something like a piano Cinderella story—VWU has now joined the elite ranks of All-Steinway Schools, which are colleges and universities that demonstrate a commitment to excellence and an unparalleled educational experience by providing their students with the rich, unrivaled sound, incomparable tone, and pristine touch that can only be found in Steinway & Sons pianos.

“Virginia Wesleyan University is Coastal Virginia’s premier university of the liberal arts and sciences,” said VWU President Scott D. Miller. “Our campus is located at the epicenter of the arts in the seven-city Hampton Roads Region, and the addition of All-Steinway School Status adds another distinction to our nationally acclaimed academic program. It provides students an opportunity to learn utilizing the best, and is a draw for top talent." 

Defining the Goal

A clear path to All-Steinway School status emerged at VWU around five years ago, said Bryson Mortensen, Director of Choral Activities and Chair of the Fine and Performing Arts Department. In 2015, when Mortensen joined the faculty of VWU’s Susan S. Goode School of Arts and Humanities, he took stock of the school’s piano inventory and initiated a meeting with Gary Girouard, Educational Services Manager at Steinway & Sons.

“When the performing arts center comes to fruition, it will be a catalyst to drive the Steinway campaign the rest of the way home.”

“Gary mentioned the idea of VWU working to attain All-Steinway School status, and in my mind, I thought it would be a long way off,” Mortensen remembers. “At that time, I was just getting my footing in a new school, and I remember thinking that a goal of that scope would not be attainable any time soon. However, I was aware that, behind the scenes at VWU, there had been a lead donation made towards a new performing arts center by Susan Goode, a VWU trustee and supporter of the arts at VWU.  I made a mental note and said to myself, maybe when the performing arts center comes to fruition, it will be a catalyst to drive the Steinway campaign the rest of the way home.”

That catalyst came even more quickly than Mortensen forecast. The 23,000-square-foot Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center, which would house the 300-seat Joan and Macon Brock Theater, was fully funded the following summer, and construction commenced immediately, with a projected completion date of early 2019.

“I knew we would need a new Steinway for that space,” Mortensen said. “So I thought, okay, now is the opportunity to bring up the All-Steinway goal to our faculty, administration, and donors.”

Girouard was quick to lend a hand. He visited VWU to perform an analysis and assess the age and condition of the school’s existing piano inventory, which comprised nine instruments of various ages and conditions. He and Mortensen then met with advancement leadership and made a strong case for upgrading all pianos to Steinway or Steinway-designed Boston models. “Everyone was almost immediately on board,” Mortensen said. “I think the general consensus was that all the old pianos needed to be replaced anyway. So why not take advantage of the energy and impetus surrounding the new performing arts center and make it happen? We had donors who were instantly interested. We all looked at each other and said, ‘let’s get this going, and let’s do it right.’”

Finding the Funds

Mortensen said that VWU is unique—and fortunate—in that the university has a robust group of donors and foundations that are generous supporters of arts initiatives. The E.K. Sloane Fund of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, for one, had already committed $71,000—nearly half the cost of a new Steinway Model D concert grand for the Goode Center. As soon as the goal of All-Steinway School status was defined, he said, the Foundation stepped up even further, helping to purchase an additional Steinway Model D for the Hofheimer Theatre inside VWU’s old fine arts building, Susan T. Beverly Hall.

“We found another grant. And another. It seemed to never stop.”

Funds were soon identified for not just the Steinway grands, but also for additional pianos for practice rooms and for VWU’s black box theater. “It seemed like every other week I’d get a phone call from Advancement telling me they’d found another grant for piano purchases,” Mortensen said. “And then they’d say, now we found another grant. And another. It seemed to never stop.”

Mortensen worked closely with Girouard to identify pianos and even traveled to New York City, along with a delegation of arts faculty and students to select the Model D for the Goode Center. In the final tally, VWU purchased two Steinway Model D grands, one Steinway Model B grand, one Boston GP-193 grand, and six Boston uprights, bringing the university’s piano inventory up to the required ten to attain All-Steinway School status.

“Because we were both building a new fine arts center and updating our old fine arts building, there were lots of people who were interested in helping,” Mortensen said. “It was so much fun, because once we were ready to move on Beverly Hall, it was like Christmas. The pianos all arrived in one day. It was amazing.”

“We are thrilled,” added Travis Malone, Professor of Theatre, former Dean of the Goode School, and a member of the delegation who went to New York to select a Model D. “The All-Steinway School status is a recognition of our commitment to excellence in the arts. Our audiences will be inspired and our student artists’ work will be elevated by Steinway & Sons pianos. VWU has built a home to develop world-class artists and artistry.”

Reaping the Rewards

Response throughout the VWU community has been overwhelmingly positive since the new Steinway and Boston pianos arrived, with faculty, students, and administrators singing the praises of the pianos and noting that the school’s new All-Steinway status elevates its position as an institution committed to high quality musical instruction.

“Obtaining All-Steinway School status is the icing on the cake.” 

“For me, Steinway has always been synonymous with excellence,” said Jason Squinobal, Associate Professor of Music and Director of Instrumental Music at VWU. “I know Bryson Mortensen worked very hard to obtain All-Steinway status for the University and that hard work shows a dedication to the same standard of excellence to his fellow faculty and the facilities he helped to improve. It’s an exciting time for performing arts here at Virginia Wesleyan University; we have a new performing arts center, renovated fine arts buildings, and excellent faculty. Obtaining All-Steinway School status is the icing on the cake.” 

George Stone, VWU piano instructor and staff accompanist, agrees. “What being an All-Steinway School means to me is that no matter where I am rehearsing or performing on campus, there is a nice piano to play, where the keys all react the same and the tone quality is equally good from top to bottom,” he said. “Any pianist will tell you that this is not true on most other pianos. The Steinways and Bostons are a joy to play.”

“It’s great for VWU to have achieved this status,” said VWU vocal major Serena Smith. “Accessibility to great instruments like Steinway pianos is key to a good musical education, and I’m grateful that I have that accessibility at VWU.”

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