By Amanda Keefe
Steinway pianos — the preferred choice of John Lennon, the White House and 98 percent of all concert artists. Now, Webster University owns 32 of them.
“The Steinway is without rival — the best piano in the world,” said director of piano studies Daniel Schene.
For about $700,000, Webster purchased the pianos for the music department, making the university an official “All-Steinway School.” Webster is one of 123 institutions in the country to hold such a title.
“The college has wanted to do this for years,” said Webster President Elizabeth Stroble. “It’s the mark of a great music school.”
Since the mid-90s, Webster rented pianos from Steinway & Sons, always with the intent to eventually purchase instruments to own. Because Steinway recognized Webster’s intent, any loaned piano was given to the university for free. Webster was good on their word, as the pianos were purchased this past December.
“It’s always better to own than to rent,” said Jeffrey Carter, chair of the music department.
Over the years, Webster has set aside the money to inevitably spend on several Steinways for the music department, including some for practice rooms, various concert rooms and for the Winifred Moore auditorium, said Susan Lutz, director of institutional sales for Steinway.
“Webster has taken a huge investment in the arts,” Lutz said.
Stroble considers it an investment in academic excellence.
“This is an investment unlike any other,” she said. “It grows over time.”
Carter said the time to finally act on purchasing the Steinways came last year, as the music school was growing and rentals were aging. Carter said he understands why one might question whether the amount was equal to the level of priority for the university, but he believes the investment was more than worth it.
“We tried to get the most for our money,” Carter said. “Could we have gotten more instruments for the same amount of money? Yes. But it wouldn’t be what we have. We’ve got the Cadillac of pianos.”
Last November, the selection process for the pianos took place inside the Steinway Selection room at the factory in New York. Carter and three other Webster faculty members went from piano to piano, choosing each based on their sound quality, its feel and its tambour.
“We had to ask, ‘How would it sound like in a particular room?’ ” he said. “That way we could judge where each piano should go.”
Most of the old rentals were traded in and replaced with new pianos, but not all instruments in the music department are from Steinway & Sons. Carter compared the department’s instruments to acquiring GM cars; some are Oldsmobiles, some are Caddies. Lutz explained that every Steinway sounds different from the next. The space in which the piano exists also depends on the sound quality.
“A pianist’s personality doesn’t care what the name is on the piano,” she said. “They just want what sounds best, and that’s a Steinway.”
Junior music major Matt Pankratz said he and the other music students appreciate the new purchase, as the old instruments were rarely taken care of, and the new Steinways will be catered to on a much higher level.
“I feel like this new purchase will make us take much better care of our pianos,” Pankratz said.
Having the new Steinways will ensure better practice and better performance for music majors, as they can utilize top-notch instruments, Carter said.
“(Steinways) give our students a much better quality of practice,” he said. “This purchase catapults us into the top rank of U.S. music schools. It furthers our desire to be a national department of music.”