The main objectives of the Steinway Piano Factory Field Trip is to introduce pianists into the "other" side of the piano....the side that includes the construction of the instrument. The factory trip is intended to provide pianists with a first person view of the complex and sophisticated manufacturing and assembly that takes place at a piano factory. This year, the staff at Steinway also introduced them to the business side of the industry. They presented information about new programs and internships now offered by Steinway for students attracted to the business side of the piano world, and provided me with brochures to bring back to the SMTD career office for dissemination.
The result of the factory trip was a new appreciation of the piano, and my students' introduction to the technical side about which they know little. Most of them have never ever visited a factory of any kind. Witnessing the mix of old world hand skills and modern CNC use was an eye-opening experience for them. In addition to the tour, the students were given a special presentation by the Senior Director of Human Resources of Steinway Americas, who informed them of a variety of exciting programs that Steinway offers in teacher and performing artist supports, as well as business internships in areas like marketing, and educational programming.
The factory trip is something I have arranged on a mostly yearly basis for students in Piano Technology 401/501 (as long as there are at least four students). It reinforces the strong relationship we have with Steinway, and is known throughout Steinway as a unique and special activity for students coming from Michigan. I know of no other school that arranges this kind of activity on a yearly basis. My course curriculum is designed to complement the factory experience. Weekly lectures introduce the various processes involved in building a piano, which then culminate in the factory tour. The administration of the factory take the tour seriously, as evidenced by the fact that the students are gathered in a conference room to meet and greet some of the important senior staff at Steinway. This year, John Patton, Steinway Vice President, and Jana Helmrich, Senior Director of Human Resources came to meet personally with my students. The U of M SMTD is acknowledged as an important client and partner in this way. It is a unique honor to receive this kind of unsolicited attention.
A couple of the students in the class have expressed an interest in following up with Jana Helmrich to explore possibilities for internships. The emergence of internships at Steinway comes at a fortuitous time at the SMTD. Our career center, known as EXCEL, intends to include in their career fair this semester the information I provided them from the Steinway Human Resources Office. While this is not a truly "official" continuation of the project, it is a new development to come out of the factory experience, and it opens up a new avenue that has never been explored by the SMTD in the past.
I think that EXCEL will have a role in the future as the primary promoters of internships at Steinway. The piano faculty certainly are aware of the activity, and some have now expressed an interest in touring the Steinway factory themselves. This has boosted the attendance in my class, and the excitement of the tour has been shared generally among the piano student population, and especially among students who haven't yet taken my course.
Advice to your Colleagues:
The single most important factor that led to the success of the project was the receipt of grant money from several sources. CRLT was most generous with the initial $500. The SMTD EXCEL career center provided another $750, and the Steinway Piano Gallery of Detroit gifted $1000 for students' costs. Cost is the single most difficult matter for my students to bear. The grants help to bring down those costs to a reasonable level for them to consider attending. New York is an expensive city to fly to, and hotel costs are also quite high. My advice to colleagues: dig down and do the research for sources of support, then don't be afraid to ask. Cobbling together enough funds is a challenge, but it can be done with persistence and a clear presentation of one's ideas.