On January 28, two new Steinway pianos were delivered to the Blackman Music Building at Converse College as gifts from Kurt and Nelly Zimmerli. The article below, courtesy of the New York Times, chronicles a Converse group’s visit to the Steinway complex in New York to select the pianos.
By STEPHEN G. REED | NYT Regional Newspapers NEW YORK —
They tried Chopin and Bach. They tried Debussy and Rachmaninoff. They tried German folk songs.
With each selection, it seemed, the delegation from Converse College heard something new: a fine, high note that sounded with exceptional clarity, or low tones that lingered just a little too long.
Moving among five grand pianos in a spare white room at the Steinway & Sons factory in New York City, Dr. Doug Weeks, who heads the keyboard division of Converse’s Petrie School of Music, listened for minuscule aural cues to indicate which piano would be the perfect purchase for Converse.
“I think it’s a huge responsibility because we’re going to have this piano for a long time,” said Weeks, visibly wrestling with the decision.
He and four others from Spartanburg — Dr. Joe Hopkins, the dean of the music school; Pat Case of Case Brothers pianos; and Kurt and Nelly Zimmerli, who are buying the piano for Converse — came to Steinway on Wednesday morning to make the selection. The factory, a red brick complex in a wind-swept industrial area of northern Queens near LaGuardia Airport, is the birthplace of all Steinway grand pianos in North America.
The group saw a new, curvaceous piano rim being made — a process that involves cementing together 18 layers of maple strips, each one 3/16 of an inch wide and 21 feet long, with a special glue. The strips, which altogether require six men to lift, are then bent into the rim’s distinctive shape by a hand-tightened press.
They got a lesson in the exotic wood veneers that can adorn a Steinway — rosewood, mahogany, bubinga. They watched a worker match veneers and saw a technician fine-tuning a finished piano, adjusting the felt hammers and metal wires just so. But tourism wasn’t really the point. The point was choosing a piano.
The Zimmerlis donated two Steinways to Converse — a new grand piano and a small piano, manufactured elsewhere, for a practice room. The $100,000 gift recognizes their 50th wedding anniversary last year. “We both love music, so we came up with that idea,” Nelly Zimmerli said.
For Converse, the acquisitions mean an opportunity to become a Steinway School, joining a list of 49 institutions where Steinways predominate, including The Juilliard School in New York, the Yale School of Music, the University of Georgia and the University of Maryland. Hopkins said the designation would help attract top students and faculty by showing a commitment to excellence in instruments. Along with the Zimmerlis’ gift, Converse has received $125,000 from Bill and Rhetta Lowndes to update the music school’s climate control system to better care for the pianos. The Lowndeses have challenged the community to match their gift.