By ASHLEIGH GRIM
Eight new pianos are now housed in the UMW music department, an addition that had not been made since 1991.The arrival of the new instruments was made possible by a collaboration with Kawai America Corporation. Kawai delivered two grand pianos, four upright pianos, one digital piano and one hybrid piano.
“Since we are a state school, we have to do what is called a Request for Proposals,” said Dr. Brooks Kuykendall, chair of the music department.
“We lay out what the problem is, that we need to upgrade most of our pianos, and we advertised that we will take proposals for how to replace those. We ended up going with Kawai. They will allow us to use pianos for free, and every year for the next five years they will do a sale on campus to anybody in the area.”
In exchange for allowing Kawai to host this sale on campus, UMW receives the pianos for a discounted price. The initial contract is for five years with the option to renew the contract every year for up to ten years. This allows the department the opportunity to replace the old pianos over time instead of purchasing them all at the same time.
“I don’t think I would want to buy them all at once because I don’t want to end up in the situation 25 years from now that we were in where the pianos needed to be replaced all at once,” said Kuykendall.
Students and faculty in the music department recognized that there was major need for replacements.
“They were junk, long past the end of their service life,” said Dr. Andrew Kraus, principle piano instructor. “The instruments were entirely inadequate, whether being used as practice instruments or in the teaching studios.”
“Virtually all of them were in really bad shape,” said Kuykendall.
“Most of the pianos that we had before were honestly fairly terrible,” said senior psychology major John Kurtzke.
Junior music and history double major Kassie Philips agreed.
“I hated the pianos we had before. They were old and they all sounded terrible in different ways. Some were only loud, some were only soft, and most of them sounded clanky and awful.”
Although many of the pianos needed replacing, the historic nature of the instruments made it difficult for the department to decide which to keep.
“We have to go through what is called surplus, they come and pick up the old pianos, and the state does an auction. I’m hoping we will find homes for some of those on campus,” said Kuykendall.
“Right before spring break I went around and basically put do not resuscitate orders on them. Of our 25 pianos there were 10 of them that we decided to get rid of. We took the ones that seemed to be in the worst shape for what we needed them to be.”
The new additions have been met with positive reactions from those in the department.
“The Philharmonic Orchestra is thrilled with the addition of the new pianos to the music department,” said Audra Bielke, Philharmonic operations manager. “Our student musicians look forward to using the pianos as we rehearse for our upcoming performances.”
“The new instruments are a huge improvement. I have heard good reactions from the students about the practice pianos,” said Kraus.
“There are now, for the first time since I have been working at UMW, two functional grand pianos in the primary piano teaching studio. Having two instruments allows me to sit at one, watch and listen to my student at the other, and be able to play examples without the need for us to swap seats.”
Students say the new instruments allow for a better learning environment and the ability to have quality practice time.
“I’ve tried pretty much all of the new pianos, and though there are still a few that I’m not a huge fan of, the improvement is enormous,” Philips said. “In particular, the full digital keyboard that’s in one of the practice rooms is fantastic. I’m really happy that this deal happened.”
“It’s better instruments when you get there. In the classrooms, the practice rooms and the teaching studios, all of those were already available, but now they are brand new instruments,” said Kuykendall.
While the majority of the reception has been positive, there is some opposition to the new additions.
“There was one 1920s Steinway that I, and other students, begged the department to keep. While the new ones are nice, I find them to be incredibly bland and uninspiring to play,” said Kurtzke.
“The fun of the old ones is that they all had their little quirks and different sounds that lent them well to certain styles of music, and helped give you a new perspective on your playing.”