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Sound Investment

Professor James Staples with the Steinway instruments in his studio.

In late May, Tony Atwater, president of IUP, and Bruce Stevens, president of Steinway & Sons, signed an expression of intent for the university to join the exclusive ranks of All-Steinway Schools—educational institutions that use only pianos produced by the Steinway Company.

The signing ceremony took place at Trombino Piano Gallerie in Pittsburgh.

Not long thereafter, IUP piano faculty members Judith Radell and James Staples arrived at the Steinway factory in the Astoria section of the New York City Borough of Queens. They were there to select the eight seven-foot grand pianos that would reside—in pairs—in Cogswell Hall’s four piano faculty studios.

“All the piano teachers have two pianos,” Staples said. “The teacher plays one instrument, and the student the other.  The teacher is also able to play with the student if that is needed, and, of course, a lot of music is written for two pianos.” At the Steinway factory, Staples said, “They treat you like royalty. We watched the entire process of building a piano. There’s even a complete lumberyard at the factory. We met all the craftspeople, many of whom—especially those who do the finest handwork—are women. It’s an old way of doing business, but a good way.”

Steinway president Bruce Stevens, left, IUP president Tony Atwater, and Robert Trombino of Trombino Gallerie toast IUP’s intention to become an All-Steinway School.

In early July, twenty-three pianos arrived at the university. Eventually, as funds become available, IUP will have more than ninety Steinway instruments, including ten pianos it already owned.

Sizes will range from uprights in student practice rooms to nine-foot grands in Cogswell’s large instrumental rehearsal room, in Gorell Recital Hall, in Sutton Hall’s Blue Room, and in Fisher Auditorium. All the pianos will be ebony in color, and all will be maintained by a newly hired full-time technician, certified by Steinway.

The entire All-Steinway initiative is expected to cost in the millions of dollars—more than $2.6 million for the instrument purchases and nearly $2 million more for an endowment to provide for continuous care, maintenance, and eventual (far into the future) replacement.

Left to right: President Tony Atwater, Music Department chairperson Lorraine Wilson, and jazz pianist and Steinway artist Joe Augustine.

Keeping the pianos in perfect tune will be a lot easier in the humidity-controlled environment of the renovated Cogswell Hall than it would have been in the “old” building a few years ago. There’s also more space. In his previous studio, Staples said, “You had to squeeze in and out of the room to get by the two pianos.”

In becoming an All-Steinway School, IUP will join the ranks of fewer than sixty of the world’s finest schools of music. Gaining the designation is something IUP’s music faculty members had thought about for at least two decades, Staples said, and added, “President Atwater has really gotten behind it and made it happen.” Only seven Pennsylvania institutions have achieved the same distinction.

A reception on the occasion of the Steinway signing in May took a contingent from IUP to Trombino Piano Gallerie in downtown Pittsburgh. In the foreground facing the camera are Music Department Chair Lorraine Wilson and Dean of Fine Arts Michael Hood.

Staples began his fortieth year on the faculty this fall. (His fellow piano faculty member Ed Fry has been at the university two years longer.) Staples said that for years, the IUP music faculty turned out fine music graduates with less-than-fine facilities. Now, he said, the All-Steinway designation, combined with new facilities, “will attract even better students.”

“Even those who aren’t musicians,” he said, “recognize the name Steinway.”

(More about All-Steinway Schools and about many aspects of Steinway & Sons [including a virtual factory tour] is available at www.steinway.com.)