Her fingers glide across the black and white keys – dropping, recoiling and then dropping again to create a percussive, yet warm sound.
The freshman is nervous to play on the Steinway grand piano, but her instructor, sitting on the bench next to her, encourages her on with a nod and a grin as she holds the final chord of a Bach standard.
“Very nice,” says the instructor. “Let’s try another piece.”
As the student looks for sheet music for a Chopin etude, the look of intimidation fades and satisfaction takes its place. She knows she’s improving. The instructor notices the growing confidence and thinks to herself about this moment.
“Why can’t all of our students play on an instrument like this?”
The instructor is Dr. Hyeyoung Song, Weatherford College’s artist-in-residence. The renowned concert pianist has played all over the world, including her native South Korea, in Paris and in multiple appearances at Carnegie Hall in New York.
In his first few months as Weatherford College president, Dr. Tod Allen Farmer kept hearing about Song’s incredible abilities and about how fortunate WC was to have someone of her caliber. When he finally heard her play, he knew the college had someone very special. And after he heard Song verbalize her passion for teaching, he knew there was an opportunity to build a dynamic piano program around her.
Duane Durrett, who recently took on the role of dean of fine arts, helped to conduct an analysis of WC’s piano inventory, which was eye-opening. Besides a beautiful nine foot Steinway grand donated by Louise McFarland in the late 1990s and a handful of other donated pianos, it was obvious WC didn’t have the piano equipment necessary for a first-class fine arts department, much less a burgeoning piano program.
To meet the challenge, the college and the WC Foundation have embarked on a project to become an “All-Steinway School,” demonstrating a commitment to excellence by providing students and faculty with the best equipment possible for the study of music. More than 200 institutions worldwide carry the All-Steinway School distinction, including 44 community colleges.
“We want the Alkek Fine Arts Center to be the cultural hub of our entire service area,” Farmer said. “Our students deserve a first-rate experience, and that’s what Steinway represents.”
In an effort to seed philanthropy, Farmer has already committed college resources to the effort, approving the purchase of a new upright piano for practice purposes and greenlighting the inaugural Weatherford College International Piano Competition scheduled for April 27.
“We hope the competition becomes a ‘mini-Van Cliburn’ for our area,” Farmer said. To become an All-Steinway School, WC will need to replace nine pianos in total.
Seven of the department’s 10 pianos are 40 or more years old, and eight of those are in poor condition. Additions would include Steinway grands as well as Steinwaydesigned Boston uprights.
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Farmer has asked the Foundation to consider raising funds for the All-Steinway initiative, and his request was met with enthusiasm. Durrett and the foundation’s Brent Baker traveled to New York to learn the ins and outs of raising funds for Steinways from colleges and universities who have completed successful campaigns.
They even toured the Steinway & Sons factory in Queens to see how the pianos are made first hand.
“What we saw was incredible,” Durrett said. “The craftsmanship and attention to detail in these hand-made instruments are second to none.”
An acclaimed musician himself, Durrett places priority on giving students the tools that the professionals use.
“Ninety-six percent of pianists, when performing with orchestras, chose Steinway for their performances last year,” Durrett said. “We want WC students to practice and perform on the instruments that are used in most major concert halls around the world.
Whether it’s choir, jazz band, musical theatre or classical piano, we want to present and expect the very best in performance each time our students and faculty take the stage.”
But with all of the enthusiasm from administrators and community members, there’s no one more excited to see students practicing and performing on top-notch instruments than Song herself.
“The Steinways have a special voice with their warmth, subtlety and richness,” she said. “They will allow our students to create whatever nuances of color, voicing and balance they want to create. They will not only enable students to grow musically but also provide constant inspiration in their studies and lives.”
For more information on WC’s All-Steinway School initiative, contact Brent Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 817-598-6275. For more information on the Weatherford College International Piano Competition, visit www.wc.edu/wcpianocompetition.
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