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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Life + Arts

Moores to become an All-Steinway institution


Over the next few years, UH’s Moores School of Music will join the ranks of All-Steinway Schools like Julliard and Oberlin College as it replaces each of its pianos with a new American Steinway.

Every instrument is hand-made in one of Steinway’s factories. All of the pianos at Moores will be made in New York City.

“The American Steinways are not just cookie-cutter pianos; they’re living organisms. The bass is very rich and the singing quality on the top of the instrument is unparalleled,” said Timothy Hester, professor of piano and director of keyboard collaborative arts at Moores.

“You can control it in the way that the human voice can sing. That’s not the case with so many other brands of piano.”

Henry E. Steinway, the piano-maker who passed down his name and methods to the company, was a perfectionist in his approach to making these instruments. The company has meticulously passed down his method from generation to generation.

“That’s kept the art alive,” Hester said. “It’s critical to keep the quality high and never sacrificing on the quality of the parts.”

There is a historical significance to practicing and performing on these instruments.

Steinway pianos are not run of the mill instruments, they are specially crafted and can be controlled and tailored to a pianist's needs. | Courtesy of Sammy Butts

Steinway pianos are not run of the mill instruments, they are specially crafted and can be controlled and tailored to a pianist’s needs. | Courtesy of Sammy Butts

“Back at the turn of the century, Rachmaninoff might have played a concert on a Steinway,” Hester said. “Composers use Steinways. It’s the same as a period instrument in a way.”

The plan to buy the pianos includes the creation of a $1 million-endowed fund that will generate enough permanent income to allow for them to be kept in perfect playing condition.

An alumnus and his wife are privately funding the effort to become an All-Steinway School. The donor’s only request is that the school raise the funds to create the endowment fund for maintaining the instruments.

“If you buy 170 pianos and you don’t have a plan and funding to maintain them, in three to five years, you’ll have nothing but old pianos that are in bad condition. In an environment like this, where they’re played 20 hours a day, they age four or five times as fast as they do under normal conditions,” said Moores Director Andrew Davis.

The pianos range in cost from $25,600 to $148,900. There are four nine-foot grand pianos and 30 seven-foot Model B grand pianos included in the proposal. The 34 pianos cost approximately $3.5 million.

Altogether, the donor is contributing almost $6 million for the new instruments.

“In the past, we’ve had another brand of piano in the practice rooms that isn’t as fine of an instrument, but we have Steinways in most of the faculty studios,” Hester said .

“Students would practice all week and then come in to play for lessons, and it’s almost unfair because they couldn’t prepare on the same type of instruments.”

Laura Bleakley, a second-year collaborative piano graduate student, agrees that practicing simply isn’t as efficient on pianos that don’t play as they should.

“Having a good instrument helps a lot with technique. For example, if you’re trying to work on your pedal technique, it’s not very productive to try and practice it on a piano with a clunky pedal,” Bleakley said.

She mentioned that a new instrument also contributes to her motivation to practice.

“You’re less likely to just sit and waste time if there’s a nice piano sitting in front of you,” Bleakley said.

Part of the proposal includes that the University perform maintenance work in the School of Music and the Moores Opera House, specifically on the climate control systems. The College has acquiesced, and work has already begun on these changes.

This is crucial because changing temperatures and humidity can be disastrous for wooden instruments, pianos being one of them. Fluctuating temperatures can drastically increase the cost of maintenance and sometimes even destroy the instruments.

“This proposal is important because at big schools of music like this one, it’s very difficult to acquire and maintain an adequate inventory of pianos,” Davis said.

Moores is one of the 30 largest music schools in the country in terms of both enrollment and budget among institutions that are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.

When completed, the transaction will be one of the largest purchases in the history of Steinway America. The inventory of American Steinways at Moores will be among the 10 largest of its kind in the world.

The new pianos will be a huge draw to potential students. According to Davis, music schools that have undergone similar initiatives have found a 25 to 50 percent increase in the number of applicants.

“The quality of the pianos will be something that students can depend on,” Hester said. “It’s not the only piano in the world, but we’ll be putting ourselves in a good position to enhance the art and serve the music with these instruments.”

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