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USF to receive new pianos, prestige

Jazz singer Harry Connick Jr., composer George Gershwin and USF piano students will now have something in common – the aid of world-renowned Steinway and Sons pianos.

USF will be one of 110 universities worldwide to become an “All-Steinway University,” replacing all existing pianos on campus with ones from the famous brand.

“There’s definitely a certain level of prestige when you become an All-Steinway school,” said Ashleigh Gallant, director of communications and marketing for the College of the Arts (CoTA). “Some of the best schools of music across the country are all-Steinway schools.”

USF’s journey toward joining the ranks of schools like The Juilliard School, Yale School of Music, George Mason University and the University of London began Sept. 20, when President Judy Genshaft caught a CBS Sunday morning feature on the University of Cincinnati’s transition to the pianos. This prompted a conversation between Genshaft and Ronald Jones, dean of USF CoTA.

“When the show ended, my telephone rang and she said, ‘We’re going to be one,'” Jones said. “And it was that simple.”

According to the Steinway and Sons website, 98 percent of all pianists chose to use Steinways in the 2007-08 concert season – a statistic USF School of Music piano professor Averill Summer, who has taught at the University for 37 years, said should come as no surprise.

“Most concert artists are seeking out a Steinway to play on because of the fact that it allows one to have so much more nuance in their playing and produce a more beautiful tone,” she said. “Steinway is the epitome of fine craftsmanship and beautiful tone in the piano world.”

A new music building, which Gallant called an “acoustical marvel,” will make that sound sweeter upon its opening in spring 2011. The 18 Steinway and Sons pianos the University already owns will be shipped back to the company for refurbishing and, by the end of the project, USF hopes to have a total of 131 of the pianos in every concert hall, practice room and studio.

“The students we have right now in the program are of outstanding quality,” Summer said. “It will provide a medium for these students to reach even a higher level of excellence … and then share that with the community because of the instruments.”

For students who may have learned on subpar instruments in high school, Gallant said the difference in quality will be evident and will help draw more students to the University.

“(Steinway) is kind of the gold standard in terms of pianos,” Jones said. “So, being an All-Steinway school makes a statement about the level of quality that the School of Music holds for its students and its commitments to music and education.”

The pianos will be purchased with private funds that have been donated to USF, as well as with funds set aside for purchasing instruments, Gallant said.

Jones said the pianos will be bought in phases, partly because they take so long to be built. Steinways, which are comprised of more than 12,000 handcrafted parts, typically take a year to assemble.

“We’re putting in the first order now, so they will probably arrive just about the time we’ll have the grand opening of the music building, which is scheduled for April 1,” he said.

According to a WUSF report by Mark Schreiner, the USF School of Music has raised just more than half of the approximately $3.5 million needed to buy the pianos and will fundraise for the rest.

As for the fate of the current pianos, “they’ll either be donated or put in storage,” Gallant said. “Many of them will probably be recycled somehow and sent back to their manufacturers for some kind of credit.”