The All-Steinway School Program, continued
- The requirements for being designated an All-Steinway School are created to ensure that pianists perform on, and students take lessons and practice on, Steinway pianos. For this reason, all performance spaces, piano teaching studios, and practice rooms for piano majors must be equipped with Steinway pianos.*
- Teaching studios, classrooms, and practice rooms that cater to other instrumentalists, or to students not majoring in piano, may be equipped with Boston or Essex pianos, although it should be noted that some schools have chosen to have Steinway pianos in these rooms as well. At present, the only Essex model allowed is the 48" model 123S institutional upright. Allowing Boston and Essex pianos to be placed in noncritical locations decreases somewhat the cost to the school of becoming "All-Steinway" without jeopardizing the program's major purpose, stated above.
- It is essential to the reputation of both the institution and Steinway & Sons that all pianos in an All-Steinway School be kept in performance-quality condition. For this reason, a Steinway-approved maintenance program must be in place. As part of the maintenance requirement, the schools must have an approved number of technicians, and these technicians must participate in Steinway's technical training programs. If the maintenance requirement is not met, Steinway & Sons reserves the right to remove the All-Steinway designation.
Pianists and technicians gave a number of reasons why they prefer Steinway pianos for institutional use, among them the instruments' durability, stability, serviceability, and the technical support available from the manufacturer; their musical qualities for performance and teaching; and their versatility and malleability to accommodate diverse musical styles and personal tastes.
Durability, Stability, Serviceability, and Technical Support
"When you see what happens in practice rooms every day, you come to appreciate the materials that go into the Steinway," says John Ellis, head piano technician at the Curtis Institute of Music, in Philadelphia, an All-Steinway School since 1924, with 93 Steinways, of which 22 were recently purchased. Ellis, who has worked almost exclusively on Steinways for the last 25 years, says that if he were buying pianos for a school, he would insist on Steinways because of their durability, as well as their tuning stability. The reason for the Curtis Institute's initial decision to purchase Steinways belongs to history, but the recent purchase was made based on that experience.
Scott Higgins, at the University of Georgia's Hodgson School of Music, in Athens, Georgia, takes care of more than 100 Steinways. He said he would not have applied for the job had it not been at an All-Steinway School. Higgins, who has had a lot of experience at the university level, was very complimentary about the longevity of the pianos. "Take a look at a 10-year-old Steinway in a practice room, and you'll see a piano that has been pounded mercilessly and holds up remarkably," he volunteered.
Pianists, too, have taken note of Steinways' exceptional stability and durability. Lydia Artymiw, a Steinway Artist since 1973, is currently the Distinguished McKnight Professor of Piano at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, an All-Steinway School since 2005. Artymiw says that Minnesota's harsh climate proved too difficult for other brands purchased in the years before the School of Music became an All-Steinway School, and that the Steinways have performed remarkably well under the extremely dry conditions during the school year.
The technicians I spoke with agreed that it's this almost indestructible construction quality that sets these pianos apart for institutional applications. The sheer mass of exceptional materials, the quality of which has not changed substantially since the development of the modern Steinway around the turn of the 20th century, also makes the instruments worth rebuilding when they eventually wear out. The oldest Steinways at Curtis were built in the 1890s, but have since been restored at the Steinway factory and are still in daily use today.
John Cavanaugh, head technician at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, in Oberlin, Ohio, is in charge of an extraordinary 235 Steinway grands. Oberlin has the distinction of being the oldest All-Steinway School — since 1877 — with the oldest piano currently in use dating from 1883. Cavanaugh, a true example of the technician in the trenches, has many Steinways older than he to be kept working at optimum levels. He says that, at Oberlin, sets of hammers and shanks are budgeted to be replaced every three years because of the huge amount of use they get. The Oberlin technicians rebuild their own Steinways, and Cavanaugh notes that Steinways of all ages, even the much-criticized ones from the 1960s and ‘70s, present no special problems in the rebuilding process. Cavanaugh also credits the Oberlin administration for his success in managing the huge workload by giving him the budget to properly maintain the pianos.
* The program requirements are subject to change. Until recently, for example, Steinways were recommended for practice rooms for piano majors, but were not mandatory.