Make way for a Steinway
Band director Spencer White discusses the reasons a Steinway grand piano is unique. (Photos by Rebecca Pierce)
It’s nearly 9 feet long and 1,000 pounds of white hard maple, pressed together in a special, painstaking, handmade process that’s patented.
The result is a black, satin-finish Steinway grand piano - and Hastings High School’s Performing Arts Center has it.
In one of several recent gifts from the Larry and Earlene Baum family, a donation of $100,000 to the school district paid for the purchase.
“Larry gave me specific instructions,” Patti LaJoye said. “We went to several Steinway studios to find the right one.”
She found the right one at the Steinway Piano Gallery of Detroit.
It’s a Steinway concert and artist piano, Model D, serial number 585295, which had been in use by professional pianists for about 10 years before being purchased and brought to Hastings.
The piano’s history will be compiled by Steinway for the school system. “They’re printing the history of all the people who have played it and we’re going to put it in a book,” LaJoye said.
“This was our dream for a long time,” she said.
Band co-director Spencer White, LaJoye, who directed the choral program at Hastings for 30 years, and Performing Arts Center Managing Director Michael Sali got together Monday at the Performing Arts Center to view the piano and discuss an open house to celebrate.
The public is invited to the Performing Arts Center from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 19 to see and, perhaps more importantly, hear this piano, learn its history and tour the center.
Professional pianist and composer Terry Lower from Battle Creek will perform as part of the program. “He said, ‘You’ve got a Steinway? I’m coming,’ “ LaJoye said.
White has been a teacher for 12 years, eight of those years in Hastings.
How often has he had a Steinway as a part of a school music program?
“Never,” he said.
These pianos are rarely found at the high school level, White said.
One of the attributes of a Steinway that make it unique is its shape, which gives it better resonance, he said. This particular piano was handmade in a factory in Manhattan.
The part of the piano called the rim was patented by C. F. Theodore Steinway in 1880.
“Strength is obtained by bending up to 17 laminates of hard maple and a mahogany veneer in an unbroken curve from base to treble,” according to information from Steinway & Sons. “The curvature distributes vibrations uniformly through its entire length.”
“Steinway is the only company that makes its inner and outer rim in one process,” White said, gesturing to the rounded end of the piano. “The white maple are all pressed together so that inner and outer rim are all pressed as one so, when the piano vibrates, it’s one piece of wood instead of pieces screwed together.”
“Underneath, this is called the plate,” White added. “That brass plate is bell-quality brass so you could use it to make a church bell.”
Then, under the plate is the heart of the piano: The soundboard.
“That is not attached anywhere with any materials,” he said. “It sits in the rim. The soundboard sits freely, which is why it resonates so long and so effortlessly.”
“They have over 400 patents on the piano and the process they use to make it,” White added. “The way they build a Steinway, you can’t build another piano like it.”
He pointed to the strings. “All of these pegs separating the strings are handset. There is no automated process. No assembly line. No plastic …Not many people can afford a Steinway. It’s all hand-strung.
“Once they build it, they roll it into a hammering room where each key is struck 3,000 times to break in the action, break in the tuning.”
LaJoye said their piano will be tuned at least once a year by the Steinway Piano Gallery of Detroit.
And, when the piano is not in use, a special room off the stage will ensure the correct temperature (64 degrees) and humidity level (47 percent) so it won’t dry out in winter or swell up in summer.
On Monday, LaJoyce, White and Sali talked about what the Steinway will contribute to school programs and the community at large - and White couldn’t resist playing it.
“We’re going to be showcasing it as a music department,” he said, “using the piano with band and the choral department.”
For example, it will be used for the choir concert on Oct. 20.
LaJoye pointed out that a Steinway piano will open the door for all kinds of events and performers to come to Hastings.
That is already happening: The renowned Gilmore Keyboard Festival is adding Hastings Performing Arts Center as a satellite site in next year’s festival lineup. A date hasn’t been set yet, but the Steinway is a requirement.
“This is THE piano,” White said. “It’s awesome.”
And now, thanks to the Baum family, this particular Steinway has found a home in Hastings.