*** The story, published in the Johnson City (TN) Press on Dec. 14, 2007. ***
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- East Tennessee State University's music department can now count itself among some of the most prestigious programs in the world.
The department was able to replace all of its pianos with Steinway & Sons pianos after recently receiving donations totaling more than $430,000, which the university matched.
"This is a big deal," said Bill Metcalfe, who owns and operates Steinway Piano Gallery of Nashville where the pianos were bought. "ETSU is in the process of becoming an 'all-Steinway' school."
An "all-Steinway'"designation means that the school uses Steinway pianos exclusively. According to Metcalfe and Dr. Frank Grzych, ETSU Department of Music chairman, most professional pianists who perform classical music will not take the stage unless they can use a Steinway.
Some notable schools with "all-Steinway" designations include the City of Edinburgh (Scotland) School of Music; Hamburger Konservatorium in Hamburg, Germany; Oberlin (Ohio) College Conservatory; Yale School of Music in New Haven, Conn.; and The Juilliard School in New York City.
"There's only about 60 schools in the world that are 'all-Steinway' schools," Metcalfe said. "The reason for becoming an 'all-Steinway' school is if you want the best students and the best teachers, you have to have the best facilities."
Dr. Ben Caton, ETSU professor of piano and theory, said Steinways are preferred because of the superior quality of sound they produce.
"Well, first of all they're handmade," Caton said. "There's no metal ever touching any metal in this, which cuts down on any kind of synthetic vibration you might have."
The pianos, because of their quality and the esteem in which they are held, do not lose their value.
"Steinways appreciate over time," Grzych said. "It's like a fine bottle of wine; they get better with age."
Once all of the instruments are delivered, ETSU will have an inventory of pianos worth about $1.2 million for rehearsal, in its practice room and in its studio.
Several pianos had already been delivered several months ago, but Wednesday night 26 Steinways arrived from Nashville. Metcalfe and his crew spent all day Thursday lugging the 1,000-pound instruments up three flights of stairs in Mathes Hall, where the music department is located.
Mathes Hall was constructed before freight elevators were commonplace, so the pianos were wrapped in mover's blankets and plastic, tilted on their sides and moved one-by-one up the stairs using brute strength.
The massive job should be completed today.
Metcalfe and his crew delivered nine Steinway grand pianos and 17 vertical pianos, which range in price from $20,000 to more than $100,000.
The music department already had a few Steinways, and those are being shipped to New York, where Steinways have been made since 1853, to be refurbished.
Most of the pianos the school had were in disrepair and in need of replacement.
ETSU music students were looking forward to the pianos being unloaded, especially piano majors like sophomore John Holloway.
"It is big because it puts ETSU on the map for one thing," Holloway said of the new Steinways.
Holloway played the first Steinway that was delivered to the department for five hours on the night it came, he said, adding that Steinways sound like orchestras from the first key stroke to the last.
He said the fact that the school will have nothing but Steinways prompted him to notify his friend in a music program in Ohio about ETSU to convince him to come here.
Grzych said the pianos will be a testament to the quality of the education ETSU can provide to its music majors.
"By the fact that we're having all Steinways in here lets students not only across the region but the nation know that we're serious about their education," Grzych said.