CCU Celebrates All-Steinway School Status with Two New Spirio | r
A stone’s throw from hectic, fun-in-the-sun Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a mid-sized state university has just made musical history. Coastal Carolina University (CCU) recently attained the coveted status of All-Steinway School, a prestigious designation recognizing those colleges, universities, and conservatories that use solely Steinway and Steinway-designed pianos for instruction, practice, and performance. CCU now joins the elite ranks of only around 230 All-Steinway Schools in the world.
Perhaps even more notable than the new All-Steinway School designation is the fact that the two pianos that completed CCU’s quest for the ranking are none other than Model D Steinway Spirio | r concert grands—the legendary piano manufacturer’s largest instruments and its most technologically innovative pianos in history. “These are the best pianos I’ve ever played in my life,” as Dr. Philip Powell, Professor of Music at CCU, put it. “We are currently the only institution in either of the Carolinas or Georgia to have a Steinway Spirio | r, and we have not only one, but two.”
A Twenty-Year Journey
The Steinway Model D is the gold standard of pianos. These nine-foot concert grands grace the stages of some of the world’s most renowned venues and have been played by the most accomplished artists in musical history. In recent years, the addition of Spirio | r technology to the flagship Steinway grand has elevated a musical legend even further, and CCU’s acquisition of two such instruments and its attainment of All-Steinway School status is no small feat. So how did a public university on a suburban campus in South Carolina make it happen?
“Becoming an All-Steinway School was a long, long process,” said Powell, who came to CCU in 1988, when the school was still a branch of the University of South Carolina. In 1993, CCU became its own state institution (“in South Carolina, we’re good at seceding from things,” Powell joked), and the seeds were sown for a humanities and fine arts college, which later emerged as the Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts. After construction commenced on a new building for the College in 2000, “we immediately realized that we needed new instruments,” Powell said. That’s when CCU faculty and administrators turned to Jyotindra Parekh and Robert Schaffer at Rice Music House, an authorized Steinway & Sons dealer in Columbia.
“This has been a twenty-year journey,” Parekh said. “In 2001, CCU announced its intention to become an All-Steinway School with the acquisition of two Steinway concert grand pianos and a few Steinway-designed Boston pianos.” After those first pianos were delivered to campus, Rice Music House continued to work with CCU, over time helping the university take ownership of a total of four Steinway-designed Boston grand pianos, seven Steinway-designed Boston upright pianos, and no fewer than ten Steinway grand pianos. The two new Model D Spirio | r were delivered to CCU on December 16, 2021—“the anniversary of Beethoven’s birthday,” Powell said.
New Tools for Instruction and Practice
An astounding instrument in its own right, it’s important to note that Spiro | r can be played like any other Steinway, the instrument artists have chosen since 1853 for its broad palette, warmth and depth of tone, powerful resonance, and unmatched touch response.
In addition, Spirio | r offers exclusive high-resolution recording, preserving every dynamic level of a pianist’s performance. The artisans at the historic Steinway factory in New York City install Spirio | r technology at the time of manufacture, ensuring no alteration in the beauty of the Steinway or its musical capabilities. The result is a technologically-advanced piano like none other—one that offers CCU new tools for instruction and new possibilities for expanding its curriculum.
As Sarah Abushakra, CCU Music Lecturer, summed it up: “It’s a total game-changer. Students can perform and we can play back their performances to them in exactly the same way. All of the keystrokes are the same, and they can actually watch a digitized version of their own performance. This is a way for our students to see everything they are doing and make adjustments.”
CCU also has plans to use Spirio’s unique Spiriocast feature to engage more with private piano teachers, musicians, and their students—no matter their location. With Spiriocast, a pianist playing anywhere in the world can be virtually in the same room as a listener. This means a performing artist or instructor can play a piece on a Spirio in Los Angeles and have it played—in real time, keystroke for keystroke—on the Spirio at CCU.
CCU had its first concert of the 2022 Spring Piano Series with Eva Polgar playing on the Spirio | r at the Beverly Hills Steinway showroom and a Spiriocast to the Coastal Carolina University recital hall. It was a unique concert experience that was a creative response to busy performance schedules and COVID travel uncertainties. “We made some amazing lemonade from those particular lemons!” Powell said.
Spirio’s tools offer benefits even beyond performance study. CCU is the only institution in South Carolina that offers a master’s degree in Music Technology. Within this curriculum, Dr. Powell envisions the use of Spirio to help students learn recording techniques for a concert grand. “The recording capabilities of this piano open new doors,” he said. “Spirio allows us to listen to the same performance again and again, with every keystroke identically replayed. Students can then work with and learn about other variables of sound, knowing the performance has not changed. In effect, Spiro provides the control.”
Celebrating with Music
In March, CCU celebrated its new All-Steinway School designation and the arrival of the new Spirio | r pianos with a concert by Jenny Lin in CCU’s Edwards Recital Hall. A Steinway Artist since 2011, Lin is known for her technical skill and adventurous spirit in the range of her repertoire. She regularly performs classic composers including Haydn, Chopin, and Beethoven but has also mastered the work of numerous modern and contemporary composers. Her CCU program of Bach, Glass, and Ravel showcased the beauty and versatility of the Steinway Spirio | r.
“Jenny Lin is a wonderful musician and a kind and generous teacher,” Powell said. “She presented a masterclass for our students, and I took the liberty of recording the student performances on the Spirio. The students had no idea I had done this and, more to the point, they didn’t even know it was possible. At the end of the masterclass, I played their performances back to them, and the expressions of disbelief and amazement were priceless. They were able to listen to themselves in a dispassionate and constructively critical way—it was a transformative experience for them” said Dr. Powell.
“The concert Jenny Lin presented had two parts—the first was a “traditional” recital (albeit played with non-traditional brilliance and clarity). After intermission, Ms. Lin moved to one of our original Steinway D concert grands and then played two piano, four hand repertoire with her own pre-recorded secondo playing on the Spirio! The audience was mesmerized—it is an overstatement to say they had never experienced anything like this before!”