Brenau Launches ‘All-Steinway School’ Project

Jan 6, 2012
Brenau Staff

Brenau Music Department Chair Barbara Steinhaus, a singer, and Assistant Professor Ben Leaptrott, a pianist, say the All-Steinway School initiative will improve university music programs across the board.

Brenau University has launched a $1.5 million fundraising campaign to replace all its pianos on campus with a variety of instruments manufactured by Steinway & Sons, Inc., of Long Island City, N.Y., a move that university officials say will help attract gifted music students from around the world and enhance musical performances to more professional standards.

The initiative seeks to raise enough money to replace 30 pianos scattered among practice studios, rehearsal halls and performance venues across the Gainesville campus of the 134-year-old institution. The average age of pianos, produced by a variety of manufacturers, is about 30 years old. Most are in poor condition.

Ben Leaptrott, a pianist and associate professor of music at Brenau, says the university decided to make the change to all Steinway-brand pianos “because they are simply the best in the world, no matter what kind of music you are playing.”

By declaring itself to be an “All-Steinway School,” Brenau will join more than 135 colleges, universities and conservatories that have already adopted the All-Steinway moniker. The group includes Oberlin College Conservatory, The Yale School of Music, Vassar College, Converse College, Texas Christian University and Belmont University. In Georgia the group includes the University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University, Spelman College and Columbus State University.

“To compete for the best music students, we have to have the best tools,” said Barbara Steinhaus, a lyric soprano who is chair of the Brenau Department of Music. “And that is a reality for all music students, not just those studying piano. A vocalist wants the kind of great accompaniment that Steinway pianos provide.” She pointed out that regional auditions for the Metropolitan Opera usually occur in venues equipped with Steinway pianos for accompanists.

Emmie Howard Henderson of Atlanta, a 2001 graduate of the Women’s College at Brenau, chairs the university’s Board of Advisers, which has taken ownership of fundraising for the Brenau University All-Steinway School Initiative.

“Brenau has spent considerable time and money over the past decade upgrading its performance and practice venues,” said Howard. “The next logical step will be outfitting those venues with the best instruments available. The University of Georgia saw a 100 percent increase in the number of students who showed up for auditions for places in the music school after it upgraded its facilities and became an All-Steinway School.”

Under initial plans for the project, Brenau will raise money for a variety of Steinway piano models. The instruments will range in price from about $12,000 to $20,000 each for instructional pianos to more than $100,000 for a concert grand for Brenau’s showcase performance venue, historic Pearce Auditorium. Two musical performances scheduled in Pearce during the fall term had to be moved at the last minute to other venues because of problems with the piano that’s there now.

Howard said the first contribution for the fundraising initiative, $2,500, came from the Alpha Chi Omega chapter at Brenau to celebrate its 100th anniversary on campus. Although the organization was never “strictly music,” it is no accident that the three-stringed lyre became part of its emblem. When original members constituted the AXO at DePauw University in 1885, its stated purpose was “to attain the highest musical culture and to cultivate those principles that embody true womanhood.”

“I’m not at all musically inclined,” said Howard, who became a member of AXO at Brenau although she was a business administration major. “But Brenau has always been known for its outstanding music programs. We want to ensure that continues.”

For more information about the Brenau University All-Steinway School Initiative, go to the video web page or call the Brenau University Office of External Relations at 770-718-5309.