Field Trip to the Steinway Piano Factory

Field Trip to the Steinway Piano Factory

Academic Year:
2017 - 2018 (June 1, 2017 through May 31, 2018)
Funding Requested:
$500.00
Project Dates:
-
Graduate Student/Postdoc:
Maria Paterno, mpaterno
Chair Uniqname:
Overview of the Project:
This field trip is intended to provide a unique look at the construction of the world's finest piano, Steinway, at their factory in New York City. Unlike their colleagues in the instrumental world, pianists are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to knowing and understanding the design philosophy and execution of a piano's design. The complexities of the instrument are a barrier for most pianists, and it creates a unique reliance upon a professional piano technician to service and tune their instrument. Students who aspire to become professional pianists need to immerse themselves in piano technology in order to inform their playing, as well as to learn to communicate with their own piano technician. The factory tour is a first step in that immersion experience. Past students who have experienced the factory tour in conjunction with the Intro to Piano Technology class taught by me at the SMTD have expressed how their entire attitude and approach to playing has been transformed. Knowing how the keyboard action is constructed, for example, explains how the feel of individual pianos varies from piano to piano. This is an important factor for a pianist when choosing an instrument for performance, in competition, or as a personal choice during the purchasing process. Learning about the three majors schools of tone currently favored by piano builders around the world gives a pianist an appreciation for the history and development of piano tone.
European, American and Asian tone are all different, and their roots are in the histories of music for each region that gave them birth. This can influence the choice of instrument for specific types of piano literature. Steinway is the pre-eminent representative of the American tonal model, the most prevalent in schools and conservatories in the United States, including at the SMTD. Learning about the historical role that Steinway played in creating the American model gives rise to possibilities for appreciating the approaches of the Europeans and the Asians. When a pianist finds out that pianos continue to evolve and change, the stereotype of pianos as static and unchanging is swept away, and leads to a renewed sense of awe and possibilities. In its heyday, during the Industrial Revolutions of Europe and the United States, the piano was considered the most technologically advanced hand-built item in the world. Steinway grew in its pre-eminence as a result of its contributions to the manufacturing environment in the United States. It is fitting that we go there to open our eyes and widen our perspective, investigating up close how an old technology continues to fit in our lives through continuing innovation while cleaving to the past.
Number of Graduate Students Affected Annually:
1 graduate student
Number of Undergraduate Students Affected Annually:
5 undergraduate students
Additional Supporters:
Christopher Harding, chcm@umich.edu
Marie McCarthy, mfmcc@umich.edu
Melody Racine, red@umich.edu
Budget Administrator:
Megan McClure, mcmegan@umich.edu
Final Report Fields
Project Objectives:
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.
Project Achievements:
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.
Continuation:
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.
Dissemination:
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.