Roll those wheels just a little more toward the door.
A little more.
Wait, now, stop. Perfect.
Now, everyone needs to clear the way for Gregory Sioles. He may not appear giddy, but appearances can be deceiving.
“I have to say that I was pretty excited about it last night,” Sioles said.
Now he sits on the bench, fingers poised on the keys, pausing before running through Chopin’s “Nocturne” on the new Steinway.
Yes, a Steinway. Sioles has not one but two in his office, both baby grands, each offering a unique voice.
Because anyone who knows anything about Steinway pianos will tell you that no two are alike. Oh, they may appear to be the same, but again, appearances can be deceiving.
Steve Kinchen knew that the 17 instruments he delivered to the LSU School of Music on Aug. 23 each were one-of-a-kind.
“Steinways are hand-built,” he said. “The Steinway and Sons Co. produces only 2,000 pianos a year.”
Now, these pianos aren’t new. They’re between 2 and 3 years old, and they’ve come to LSU from the Brevard Music Festival in Brevard, N.C. All are on loan through Steinway and Sons Co., and have been delivered by Hall Piano Co. of Metairie. Kinchen is president and co-owner of this company.
“We work with Steinway and Sons,” Kinchen said. “You can say the piano is in my DNA. I also play the piano, but it’s nothing like that.”
He points to Sioles, who has just finished playing “Nocturne.”
Sioles is an assistant professor of piano in the LSU School of Music, one of several professors whose office was furnished with the Steinways.
“Our first priority was to the piano professors,” Willis Delony said.
Delony is interim director of the School of Music, as well as a professor of piano and jazz studies. He also plays piano in the university’s popular Jazz Faculty Trio. So, he, too, can’t help being excited watching as the Steinways are rolled past his office and into the elevator for their upstairs destinations.
“Our goal is to make the School of Music an all-Steinway school,” Delony said. “This is a goal for any prominent music school, and it would be a great accomplishment for us.”
The School of Music previously was equipped with Yamaha pianos on loan from the Yamaha Corp. The pianos were older, many at the end of their musical life spans.
“Instead of renegotiating our deal with Yamaha, we negotiated a deal with Steinway,” Delony said.
“Yamaha came to LSU and had a piano sale, where they sold the pianos to the public. Now we have a year-long deal with Steinway, which we’ll renegotiate from year to year.”
The idea is to renegotiate for fewer pianos each year.
“We’d eventually like to buy the pianos, and the more pianos we’re able to buy, the less we’ll need on loan,” Delony said. “It can be done. In most places, it’s done through fundraising.”
Though 17 is a small number when considering that the School of Music houses at least 100 pianos, it’s a good start.
“Our first priority was teaching,” Delony said.
“We wanted the pianos in the teaching studios, where the students could get the most out of them, so our piano professors and accompanists got them first.”
Another set of Steinways was moved into basement rehearsal rooms in the Music and Dramatic Arts Building across the street.
“These are rehearsal rooms available only to piano majors,” Delony said. “These rooms are under lock and key, and the students must check out a key before they can use the rooms.”
A small Steinway grand piano can cost $65,000. The nine-foot Steinway in the School of Music’s recital hall is valued at $125,000.
“The pianos we’ve moved here today are valued at $1 million,” Kinchen said. “We also provide Steinways for Tulane University, and Nicholls State University. Nicholls has 21 pianos and is now an all-Steinway campus.”
“I couldn’t believe it when I walked in,” said Terry Patrick-Harris, LSU’s professional-in-residence in voice.
She accompanies her voice students on piano.
“And they took my piano away at the end of the spring semester, so my office was without one all summer,” she said.
Which was OK, because Patrick-Harris spent the summer teaching elsewhere.
“But I’d stop in from time to time, and my office looked so empty,” she said. “When I walked in this morning, I thought, ?Oh, I guess the pianos haven’t come yet, so they gave me this one.’”
There was a reason for this thought. Most of the Steinways here are black, which is the traditional color for these instruments. But Patrick-Harris’ piano is different.
“It’s pear wood,” she said.
This means its surface is filled with an interesting mix of brown and beige grains.
“When I saw it, I didn’t know it was a Steinway at first,” she said. “But this is my color, and I love it.”
Ashley Gear, a sophomore voice student from Houston, listens nearby. She’ll be accompanied by this piano while learning her repertoire the semester, much different from the old upright Patrick-Harris played for Gear’s lesson the day before.
“It was the first day of classes, and they moved an upright in, which was interesting,” Patrick-Harris said. “And when I walked in today, this was here.”
Back in the hallway, Kinchen walks from room to room, photographing the pianos. Since the pianos are on loan, documentation must be kept. The pianos were legless when Kinchen and his crew moved them from the truck to the School of Music’s third story. Legs were attached after the instruments were moved into the rooms.
“Each of these instruments has its own voice, because each is different,” Kinchen said. “It’s like a Stradivarius violin in that way. Steinway builds the instruments to standard, not to price.”
Steinway and Sons was founded in 1853 in Manhattan by German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg. Steinweg’s goal was to build the best piano possible, and the company does this by using 450 people to assemble 12,000 specific parts for each piano.
“It takes a year to build one Steinway piano,” Kinchen said.
Hard rock maple, mahogany, poplar and spruce are used in the making of a Steinway piano. The spruce is probably the most important component.
“It’s also the most expensive,” Kinchen said.
There’s a reason for this. Steinway soundboards are made of closed-grained, quarter-sawn Silka spruce harvested from 300-year-old trees in British Columbia and Alaska. The wood is chosen for its acoustic qualities and carefully selected to be free of defects.
Individual pieces of spruce are matched to produce soundboards of uniform color and tonal quality.
“Steinway purchases 83 percent of the wood from this region, and only 10 percent of it is used for the sound boards,” Kinchen said.
One of those sound boards now generates a smile from Sioles as he plays the final perfect note in Chopin’s “Nocturne.”