GATES MILLS – Once-heavy hearts were filled with joy at The Lorraine and Bill Dodero Center for Performing Arts in December 2019, when movers wheeled a nine-foot Model D concert grand into a specially designed enclave near the main stage. It marked the last delivery of 10 new Steinways and capped Matthew Figgie’s fait accompli – one final mission of many for his beloved Gilmour Academy.
He passed away in August 2018 at the age of 52.
After hearing a sour note on one of the Academy’s aging pianos, Matthew wanted to touch the lives of Gilmour music students as only he could do. A philanthropist of Wall Street who understood a return on investment was more important than an initial investment, he insisted Gilmour would settle for nothing less than Steinways.
Gilmour became the first private K-12 All-Steinway Select School in the Midwest.
“We recognize the impact that arts education can have for students. At Gilmour, we are committed to educating the whole child and this focused growth of our arts programming through the Steinway initiative and our new center for performing arts allows us to do that in yet another way.”- Kathy Kenny, Head of School
“Matthew saw value in the arts and what they can do for young people,” says Music Director David Kilkenney. “But never in my wildest dreams did I think it would grow into what we have today. His extreme generosity will impact our students for a very long time.”
“As a Gilmour alum and parent, he was passionate about ensuring the Academy attained excellence in everything from academics and athletics to the arts,” adds Ray Murphy, director of institutional advancement. “Matthew gave of his time, talents and treasures in all of those realms. His motto was ‘Go Big or Go Home,’ and when it comes to pianos, nothing is bigger than Steinway.”
“Mr. Figgie was an exceptional man who didn’t just want the best; he would only give the best. There were amazing aspects of working with him that I will never forget,” recalls Ted Good, CEO of Steinway Piano Gallery Cleveland. “I remember going into his home for our presentation, which included options for less expensive vertical pianos. He stopped me mid-sentence and said, ‘let me make this clear. Steinway makes grand pianos and we are buying grand pianos.’ His forceful choice of only Steinway was instantly made on the spot.”
The Steinway campaign dovetailed with fundraising for the new arts complex. “Our cutting-edge performing arts facility and Steinway designation are differentiators that lend focus to our arts program,” Dean of Faculty and Director of Curriculum Development Elizabeth Edmondson says. Head of School Kathy Kenny elaborated, saying, “We recognize the impact that arts education can have for students. At Gilmour, we are committed to educating the whole child and this focused growth of our arts programming through the Steinway initiative and our new Center for Performing Arts allows us to do that in yet another way.”
The designation spawned a new partnership with Piano Cleveland, where students can study with faculty members from a roster of professional artists. “Arts at the Academy” brings top-tier piano, strings, brass, woodwind, percussion and voice instruction to Gilmour.
The new pianos sparked an after-school music program that has attracted 45 students this year – double the number from 2019. Gilmour also sponsored “Tuesdays at Tudor House” featuring pianists and ensembles with one of two new Model M Spirios.
In the Upper School Band Room, Kilkenney employs the other Spirio for “Drop the Needle,” an interactive game he devised with a nod to vinyl turntables. “I play a song on Spirio and students try to guess the title, but their favorite way to use Spirio is when they can select their own pieces for the rest of the class. Listening is critical in learning to perform, and Spirio gives us an incredible tool to do that,” he says.
Students practicing and performing exclusively on Steinways seemingly adds to Gilmour’s aura of a small college campus set on 144 acres in suburban Cleveland. In 1946, nine religious brothers from the Holy Cross Congregation at the University of Notre Dame founded the Academy, named after Bishop Richard Gilmour, second bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Notable alumni include Paul Dolan, chairman of the Cleveland Indians, Art Rooney II, president of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and John Snow, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.