"We've just grabbed one of the 'brass rings' in music education and now take a place among the great music schools in the world."
— Craig Jessop
Click here to view a history of Steinway Pianos at Utah State University
"These wonderful instruments contribute to our success in teaching and performing and in recruiting and retaining the top students and faculty from across the map. Today, a truly great university has gotten even better."
— Pres. Stan Albrecht
It started with one piano in New York City …
Steinway serial number 130703 … and it started in 1904, the year that Utah Agricultural College President William Kerr hired a full-time professor of music for the Logan school.
It would take years before piano 130703 eventually made its way to Utah. Forty-five years to be exact. And in those years, what a life. Piano 130703 was built as a concert artist piano and used in several of the famed performance venues of New York City, Steinway and Carnegie halls and the likes. Who knows what rock star piano fingers of the era danced along its ivory keys. Rachmaninoff? Arthur Rubinstein? Perhaps.
Then, after a life well-spent on the concert stage, it was time for a second career for Steinway 130703. After a complete restoration in New York City, the piano was shipped to Utah State Agricultural College, Logan, Utah, on January 18, 1949.
What a day it was when 130703 arrived on campus. There must have been excitement and a sense of “We’ve arrived!” After all, then as now, the Steinway brand means one thing: ultimate quality.
We don’t know where Steinway 130703 served its early days on campus. Most likely, it was reserved for major events and activities held in Old Main Auditorium. After all, that was the major performance space on campus. Was it used to accompany opera legend Marian Anderson when she performed in Old Main during the early 1950s? Most likely, it was; the best certainly calls for the best. What other noted artists of the day were accompanied by 130703 at USU, now a veteran of the concert stages of New York City, then Logan, Utah? Who can say, but the piano must have been the go-to instrument for the university’s biggest and most impressive events.
After serving Utah State long and faithfully, Steinway 130703 needed more than a touch-up and tune-up. It looked like it was at the end of its second career. Its 110-year-old lid was cracked in three pieces and was not safe to open. Its hammers were cupped. Its once rich finish was scratched and dull. It was time for an overhaul and it was time to look at the entire piano inventory in the Department of Music.
Fast forward to spring 2012 when good ’ol Steinway 130703 not only returned in all its glory, its family tree was greatly expanded when Utah State University joined the elite ranks of “All Steinway Schools.” With a culminating gift by the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, along with the contributions of earlier donors, Utah State University’s Department of Music acquired 44 new Steinway and Steinway-designed pianos, upgrading and replacing all pianos in the department.
The designation didn’t happen overnight. In fact, efforts to achieve the elite ranking began in the 1990s and involved faculty members, administrators and the support, to say nothing of the dollars, of many.
The campaign to achieve the “All Steinway” status was led by Music Department faculty and Wassermann Festival Director Dennis Hirst, who worked tirelessly toward the designation. To attain the status, 90 percent of pianos in a program must be Steinway designed and built.
When the status was achieved, a gala occasion was planned at Utah State University celebrating the accomplishment.
Noting the importance of the occasion, Sally Coveleskie, national director of institutional sales for Steinway & Sons, traveled to Logan to make the official presentation at a concert and dedication program that opened the 2012 Wassermann Festival. She was welcomed by Caine College of the Arts Dean Craig Jessop who accepted the honor on behalf of the university.
“We’ve just grabbed one of the ‘brass rings’ in music education and now take a place among the great music schools in the world,” Jessop said to an enthusiastic crowd.
Coveleskie, in Logan for the first time, was impressed with the natural surroundings and “Tiffany blue sky.” While the wide open expanse of a clear blue western sky was new to her, Utah State University
“Utah State University is known as a place to study music, especially piano,” she said. “My contact with the university goes back to the first Steinway-sponsored MTNA Young Artists Competition, when a student of Gary Amano, Adam Nielsen, captured first place. It is unusual if a Gary Amano student is not included among the final competitors. He’s a master teacher. These pianos allow your students to become the best they
That statement — that Gary Amano is a “master teacher” — was repeated throughout the celebration, and repeated by many. And what better time was there to feature some of the piano talent at the university, all Amano students?
On a stage that included five Steinway pianos of varying sizes, the parade of talent began. One after another, young pianists took to the keyboard, each as impressive as the next. The final pianist was Adam Nielsen ’05 — yes the same Adam Nielsen who was the 18-year-old winner from the first Steinway Young Artists competition noted by Coveleskie. He was fresh off a plane from New York City where he is now a faculty member at the Juilliard School. Within the USU piano family, it was a musical reunion.
To say the lineup was impressive is an understatement.
“Wow! Dreams really do come true,” said Utah State University President Stan Albrecht at the conclusion of the piano selections. “This is a special day for Utah State University. The talents of its students — past, present and future — are impressive. This is a milestone, a defining moment acknowledging the success of our undergraduate program whose graduates, as we can see and hear, go on to bring great distinction to our university. They receive the finest professional training anywhere. And today, with this designation, we join the ranks of the ‘All Steinway Schools.’ These wonderful instruments contribute to our success in teaching and performing and in recruiting and retaining the top students and faculty from across the map.
“Today, a truly great university has gotten even better.”
It was a gala celebration to be sure, and there were a few moist eyes in the crowd. The event was the culmination of an impressive campaign. It marked and acknowledged the contributions of a major foundation and individuals alike.
It was also a time to put USU’s Piano Program in the spotlight, a program that set its roots when Polish émigré Irving Wassermann was hired in 1955 as the first full-time professor of piano at USU. His distinguished pedigree, including tutelage from noted musicians Eduard Steuermann and Anton Webern, brought Utah State a direct link to European musical traditions. It was also through Wassermann that Gary Amano was first introduced to Utah State.
As a young boy of 12, Amano’s parents, Yosh and Smiley Amano, drove him from Helper, Utah, to Logan to study piano with Wassermann. In those days a round trip drive was a hard to imagine eight hours. Today, Amano, with his brother, Young, acknowledges and pays tribute to that family support through a scholarship at USU in his mother’s name.
Amano would go on to study with many, but he would never forget his early mentor and introduction to USU and those drives to Logan and Cache Valley.
Amano earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Mecca of cultural studies, the Juilliard School in New York City. When he graduated, he wanted to return to his home state to share what he acknowledged were “the incredible opportunities of a Juilliard training” with those who weren’t fortunate enough to travel outside the region. He returned, he said, with the goal of creating a piano program in the Mountain West that would rival the conservatories of the
With sheepskin (diploma) in hand, Amano headed back to Logan in 1974 as an instructor of piano and began the professional climb up the tenure ladder, earning the rank of full professor in 1990. Along the way he established the USU Youth Conservatory — a piano study program for young people that has been nationally recognized. In 1982, he also became head of the piano program, when he took over for his mentor Wassermann.
Throughout his career and its multiple demands outside the classroom — he’s served as assistant music department head under seven different administrators — Amano has always been a devoted teacher. For him, an average day includes a teaching routine that lasts longer than the normal eight-hour, nine-to-five. No, for him, the clock keeps running and he keeps teaching and learning.
“I’ve always had a hard time limiting my teaching because it never seems like work to me,” he said. “It’s very fortunate that I’m doing something that I want to do more than anything else in the world. And, I get paid to do it!”
On the days he’s not teaching into the night, Amano said he can spend up to three hours studying.
What does he study? He’s reading new pieces, analyzing music that he wants to give to students to study and perfect, he’s perusing the latest book or periodical dealing with piano performance or teaching. Or, he’s preparing another lecture for one of his classes. In his more than 30-year teaching career, he’s always taught an “Advanced Pedagogy” class. And, every year, he’s taught something different, never repeating the same material.
“There is so much for me to know and so much for the students to learn. I think it’s a mistake to take the easy path and teach the same course over and over.”
Is there any wonder that Amano’s students have gone on to capture top honors at international competitions or gone on to impressive teaching careers of their own?
Master teacher, indeed.
And back at the All-Steinway celebration, after the program, after the acknowledgements and the thank-yous were over, what became of Steinway 130703?
With the contributions of multiple donors, the instrument was completely restored and has entered its third life, housed in the university choir room in the Chase Fine Arts Center as a performance piano. It, along with its new Steinway siblings, is ready for another century of service.
Sorenson Legacy Foundation Gift Finalizes ‘All Steinway’ Campaign
The Music Department at Utah State University has joined the elite ranks of “All Steinway Schools” in a campaign that culminated with a gift of $886,375 from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation. With that gift, in combination with the vision and support of additional earlier donors, USU recently acquired 44 new Steinway and Steinway-designed pianos, upgrading and replacing all pianos in the Music Department.
“This gift has an immediate and positive impact at Utah State University,” said Gary Amano, head of the Piano Program within the Department of Music and the Caine College of the Arts. “Thanks to the support of the Sorenson Legacy Foundation and others, the pianos we now have available for students and faculty are as good — or better — than those found anywhere.”
The campaign to achieve “All Steinway” status was headed by Dennis Hirst.
“The path to this designation has been a lengthy one,” he said. “Since 1995, nearly $500,000 has been gifted to USU to restore and replace pianos, laying the foundation for USU to become an ‘All Steinway School.’ The foundation was laid by many, and the generous Sorenson Legacy Foundation gift capped the process.”
The Sorenson Legacy Foundation has a tradition of supporting education and the arts, and the gift to the Caine College of the Arts continues this legacy. The foundation previously supported an arts education endowment at USU through a major gift.
“Children need the arts, and Utah State University plays a major role in providing arts education and interaction opportunities for young people,” said philanthropist and arts education advocate Beverley Taylor Sorenson. “This gift to Utah State brings music into the lives of many. I am gratified knowing that it will benefit students for generations.”
Hirst also acknowledged the previous gifts, thanking long-time arts patrons Manon Caine Russell and the late Kathryn Caine Wanlass, who, over the years provided funds to acquire several new pianos, including the Steinway Concert Grand in the Kent Concert Hall.
The restoration of the university’s first Steinway grand piano was made possible by the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation, the Cache Children’s Choir, Bonnie and Larry Slade and Gaylen and Denise Rust.
Gifts by Bruce Bastian, Eugene and Jeanine Hansen, Skip Daynes, Bruce and Karla Axtell, Kelly and Nina Hubbard, Gaylen and Denise Rust and Florence Butler made possible further piano restorations and purchases for the USU Department of Music. The sense of family within the Piano Program and its supporters is exemplified not only by the Sorenson Legacy Foundation gift, but by the gift of Florence Griffin Butler and her late husband, Dail, both USU alums. Their gift made possible the restoration of a Steinway Grand Piano now dedicated to long-time USU piano faculty member Betty R. Beecher in honor of her musical achievements and contributions
to the arts. That gift honors a lifetime friendship: Butler and Beecher have been
friends since 12-year old Florence Griffin attended a piano recital presented by the young Betty.
“The university is indebted to many who have supported our arts programs through the years,” said USU President Stan Albrecht. “The latest gift by the Sorenson Legacy Foundation has elevated our music program to an even higher level and we say thank you. Utah State University has a proud artistic heritage and a bright future.”
—Patrick Williams ’74
Photo GalleryMouse over thumbnail for detail
Empowered by its long history of piano excellence, Utah State University has now joined the elite ranks
of "All Steinway Schools."
Ledger showing the arrival of Steinway serial number 130703 to the Utah State Agricultural College in January, 1949.
Master teacher Gary Amano with the venerable Brandon Lee.
Music Department Head James M. Bankhead, Pres. Stan L. Albrecht and Caine College of the Arts Dean Craig Jessop
receive the official designation.
Adam Nielsen, current faculty member at the Juilliard School, performs at the Steinway announcement.
The Cache Children's Choir sings an original composition by piano faculty member Kevin Olson, dedicated
to Beverly Taylor Sorenson.
Sisters Jane and Erika Hubbard
Steinway and Sons' Sally Coveleskie welcomes USU to the family.
Beverley Taylor Sorenson