Doing it the Steinway

Bowlus Fine Arts Center loans a 1964-era Steinway piano to Allen Community College. 'Instruments need to be played,' Bowlus Director Dan Kays said of the piano, which had sat idle in the basement for years.

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April 22, 2022 - 3:25 PM

Allen Community College Music Director Jeffrey Anderson with the Steinway on loan from the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. Courtesy photo

There’s something special about a Steinway piano.

“Just by hearing one note, you can hear a difference,” Jeffrey Anderson, music director for Allen Community College, said.

They are among the finest instruments in the world, expertly constructed using top-quality wood. Most of the 12,116 parts are made by hand.

“The action — which is how you play the piano — is made to a higher quality so you can play with more expression,” Anderson said.

Steinway & Sons was founded in 1853 by German immigrant Henry Engelhard Steinway in New York. Today, the company is one of the world’s top piano manufacturers, and 98% of concert pianists perform on their instruments.

That means if ACC music students continue to play the piano in their future careers, they’re likely to play on a Steinway.

Anderson thought they should play one while at ACC, too. But the college didn’t have a Steinway, and they are quite expensive. 

ACC students can now play on a Steinway, thanks to an agreement with the Bowlus Fine Arts Center.

Anderson recently discovered an unused Steinway in the basement of the Bowlus, and asked if he could borrow it for a few years. He worked with the Bowlus Commission and Director Dan Kays to come up with a lease agreement.  

The piano was sitting “in a room that’s pretty much a storage closet and never utilized,” Kays said. 

When Anderson asked to borrow the piano, Kays thought it was an opportunity not only to help the college and students, but also for the good of the instrument.

“Sitting in a room and not being played is not what those instruments are for. Same thing for artwork,” Kays said. 

“Instruments need to be played and artwork needs to be seen.”

Until a few years ago, the piano had been regularly used to teach students and others how to play the piano. When the school district pulled high school music classes out of the Bowlus, the piano went unused.

The Bowlus purchased seven Steinways when the building was built in the early 1960s. Another piano, built by the Henry F. Miller Company, is used in the orchestra pit in the main auditorium. It came from the Thomas Bowlus family.

There’s a story of how seven Steinways came to the Bowlus, Kays said. 

When Thomas Bowlus first envisioned the performing arts center, he wanted to install a large pipe organ. He had purchased pipe organs for the Methodist and Presbyterian churches nearby, and wanted one for the arts center, too.

But Dale Creitz, a former band instructor who oversaw the project after Bowlus’s death and served as the center’s first director, had a different idea.

“Creitz said, ‘Tom, I love the idea but how often is a pipe organ going to be played at a fine arts center?’” Kays recounted a version of the conversation. 

Bowlus wanted students to come to the center as part of their education, so Creitz suggested pianos might be more useful.

Thus, the Steinways were purchased instead of the organ.

And for decades, they served to teach music to IHS students and others. 

Six of the pianos are still used on a regular basis, Kays said, though some more often than others. 

IT WASN’T easy to move the 7-foot Steinway from the basement to the college. 

Moving crews hoped it might fit in a new elevator. It didn’t.

Instead, they carried it up 19 stairs.

“I was a little scared when I saw them pulling it up the stairs,” Anderson said.

Under the five-year lease agreement, ACC was responsible for moving costs, as well as maintenance and insurance. 

ACC is celebrating its centennial in 2023, and is launching numerous fundraising campaigns to improve various aspects of the college. Anderson hopes to raise money to purchase a new piano; the Bowlus Steinway should serve their needs until the college can buy one of its own. A new Steinway can cost well over $100,000.

Now, the piano is safely installed at the ACC music room, where it will be played three to four hours every day and twice a year for recitals.

“We had a need for a high-quality piano that could withstand the daily use a college puts on it,” Anderson said.

The Steinway will make its first public appearance in years at a recital at 7 p.m. on May 5 at the college. 

The recital will be dedicated to the Bowlus in appreciation for their generosity. Anderson plans to play a piano solo, and choir director Adrienne Fleming will perform as well. 

Anderson looked up the serial number for the piano and found it was manufactured in 1964 in New York.

“It’s going to inspire everyone who plays it,” he said.

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