Why play a Steinway?
Melinda Smalley plays the Steinway Saturday while others listen or wait their turn to play the one-of-a-kind concert grand piano on stage at the Hastings High School Performing Arts Center. (Photo by Rebecca Pierce)
Experts, pianists and donors count the many reasons
If Wilbur Miller is right, brains were lighting up all over the place at the Hastings High School Performing Arts Center Saturday.
That's when the new Steinway concert grand piano was celebrated by the community in a way that truly brought it home: Anyone who wanted to play it got to do so – and the rest of the people who came to see it gathered around on the stage and marveled at the sound.
Seated in the shadows in a back row of the performance hall, Larry and Earlene Baum were smiling as they listened to their neighbors and friends enjoying the one-of-a-kind instrument.
The Baums bought the $100,000 Steinway for the school district.
What a gift, school staff and community members said.
Superintendent Dan Remenap stood on the side of the stage taking pictures. He was smiling, too. Everyone seemed to be smiling.
Miller, who works for Steinway & Sons Pianos in Detroit, where the piano was purchased, was there to mark the moment. He addressed the audience briefly to provide background on the Steinway.
Then professional pianist and composer Terry Lower, a Battle Creek native, entertained the gathering.
“It's a great day for Hastings,” Lower said. “A 9-foot Steinway. It doesn't get better than that!”
Local people who played the Steinway Saturday included Miles Lipsey, Teresa A. Pash, Melinda Smalley, Lilyah Solmes, Annika Solmes, Breeya Solmes, Zach Franklin, Sophie Haywood, Logan Rohe, Mallory Rohe, Lilly Randall, Andrea Wheeler, Greg Shoff, Sam Morton, Susan Morton, Joan Schroeder, Micah Johnson, Trenton Lipsey, Spencer White and Patti LaJoye.
Miller called it a remarkable celebration of the piano, which was built by hand in 2010. It was in the Detroit Concert and Artists pool “since its birth,” he said, and it went to many events for Steinway artists and pianists.
When Patti LaJoye of Hastings contacted the Detroit office and told them of the desire in Hastings for a Steinway, they embarked upon months of work to find just the right piano.
“We don't build cookie-cutter pianos,” he said. “We don't force them to be what they're not.”
“Every Steinway is special and has its own unique and beautiful characteristics,” Miller said. “For an auditorium, you're looking for a piano that can project. You're looking for a piano that can get tone to the farthest seat in the balcony at the back of the auditorium. You're looking for a piano with a big voice and a good, sweet and colorful voice.
“So, I think we found the right piano.”
Miller said it was a great joy to be in Hastings to witness the fulfillment of that search.
“It's always a big occasion when a venue finds a Steinway and places it,” he said. “And it's especially meaningful when there are donors involved. We want to make sure the donors are happy – and they usually are – because not only is a Steinway a phenomenal piano, it's also a great investment.”
“Donors know that their piano is going to be around for a long, long time,” he added, “and it'll be part of their legacy.”
The Baums, he said, are “a wonderful and gracious and generous couple” who know the impact this particular gift will have on Hastings for years to come.
“One of the most incredible and big and international piano events anywhere in the world is The Gilmore festival,” Miller said. “I think this will open up the auditorium here at Hastings High School with a Steinway like that on stage.”
In fact, The Gilmore already is planning to have one of its festival performances in Hastings next spring, LaJoye said.
In addition, Miller said, many students are going to have the world's finest piano on stage here to play or provide accompaniment to concerts and other events.
“A great piano brings great pianists,” he said. “And I hope that's going to happen here.”
Another benefit of the piano is based on scientific fact, he noted. “We know now … that children who play the piano also do better in every academic area, science, math, you name it.”
One of the reasons for that, Miller said, is that the piano engages a huge part of the brain – both sides.
“The whole brain lights up,” he pointed out. “You have a language, because you're reading notes off a page. You have touch, listening, artistic expression. You have judging – should it be louder? Softer?
“A lot of the brain is being engaged. That's good for the young brain, the brain at any age. It can add to the educational experience in that way.”
Often, the arts are among the first school programs to go when finances are challenged, Miller pointed out. “I hope that doesn't happen here.
“I think, with a great piano and a great performance space where it can live, that's a good thing.”
So, parents and teachers should encourage their students to take out the ubiquitous earbuds and play the Steinway, he suggested.
“You can find very few other Steinway concert grand pianos in high schools in Michigan,” Miller said, “Among them are: Grand Rapids Christian, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Vicksburg.”
And now Hastings.