Sam Pellman a quiet champion in All-Steinway quest at Hamilton College
CLINTON, NY – Through his compositions like Peculiar Galaxies and Selected Nebulae, it seems Sam Pellman was always reaching for the stars. A pioneering scholar in electroacoustic music, the beloved professor at Hamilton College tasted life through a dazzling palette of diverse interests. And he was a driving force behind getting nothing but the best possible equipment for his students.
In 1979, Sam began teaching at Hamilton with Steinway grands dating to the early 1900s. The school’s piano technician issued an ominous report later supported by another technician’s view from the All-Steinway Oberlin Conservatory of Music. “It was apparent that servicing our aging inventory would be very expensive,” recalled Colleen Pellman, Sam’s wife of 42 years and a fellow Hamilton pedagogue. The couple met on their first day as music undergrads at Miami University in Ohio. Colleen holds a master’s degree in piano performance from Ithaca College. Sam continued his studies at Cornell University, receiving a master’s and a doctorate in musical arts.
“With Sam Pellman at the helm, they systematically replaced inventory and earned a coveted All-Steinway designation.”
As he did with so many Hamiltonian projects, Sam took ownership of the task-at-hand and spent years meeting with alumni, donors, deans and development officers. Blending donations with sound fiscal budgeting, the school amassed a pristine collection of 19 Steinway & Sons pianos, including nine Steinway grands.
“Hamilton College is the gold standard not only for maintaining their instruments but for a meticulous approach in replacing their instruments,” said Jo Beth Dellinger, President of Artist Pianos in Syracuse. “Unlike many institutions, they did not wait until everything was falling apart before they thought about getting new pianos. With Sam Pellman at the helm, they systematically replaced inventory and earned a coveted All-Steinway designation.”
The Pellmans were boarding a plane when Sam got a call from our Steinway dealer regarding a Model M. He phoned the vice president of finance and successfully lobbied for purchasing the new piano, explaining how much money the college would save in the long-term. Methodically, he would focus on the next piano that needed replacing and how it would be financed. “He was always on the lookout for funds that could be tapped to purchase new pianos,” Colleen said.
It was for a much different historic plane trip that Sam will be most remembered. With his expertise in composition and acoustics, planners of the Flight 93 National Memorial commissioned him to sound design “The Tower of Voices,” a 93-foot instrument containing 40 wind chimes representing the passengers and crew who perished in Shanksville, PA on 9/11.
In 2011, he fully embraced the All-Steinway initiative. “Sam determined we could complete the plan by the summer of 2017. What started as a quest for better practice pianos for student pianists ended with the entire music department having wonderful pianos for all of our students,” Colleen said.
Tragically, Sam passed away on Nov. 9th, 2017, following injuries sustained when he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle. He was 64. His passions ranged from caring for his family to gardening, astronomy, mastering the Germanic language and becoming a collector of all things – sheep. “He grew up on a farm and Sam’s friends and former students would send him sheep videos and comics,” Colleen reminisced.
While shunning the spotlight at the All-Steinway ceremony on April 14th, 2018, she said, “he would have loved giving a tour of the Steinways and sharing a good meal with everyone involved.”
No doubt Sam would be cultivating the next big idea for Hamilton College.