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The College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences

High Notes

All-Steinway School Designation Helps Elevate the Stature and Profile of the University

By Melanie Johnson

College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences - The acquisition of 29 Steinway pianos has sparked the imagination of students and the community.

Just a few years ago, students in the music department practice rooms hunched over pianos worn with age, many of them dating to the 1920s and ’30s. 

Some were missing keys or had ones that just wouldn’t play anymore. Others had broken pedals. 

“Tuning them was always a problem, for they did not stay in tune,” says Iris Levine, chair of the Department of Music. “It was not a satisfying experience for the students.” 

That all changed in April when Cal Poly Pomona earned the prestigious All-Steinway School designation. 

The honor, which was granted after the acquisition of 29 new Steinway pianos, makes Cal Poly Pomona
one of about 160 universities, colleges and music conservatories in the country that claim the All-Steinway School label. 

The new pianos have raised the music department’s profile both on and off campus, Levine says. 

“Entering freshman and transfers all knew about the All-Steinway designation and were excited to see the new pianos that they would get to play,” she says. 

“Colleagues on campus have continuously mentioned how wonderful the initiative is and how proud they are of lifting the profile of the music department and university. 

“I have had other CSU music department chairs contact me about the initiative and wanting to come see the department and all the new pianos. At the last CSU Music Department Council of Chairs, department chairs were inquiring how they might follow in our footsteps. We are a proud trendsetter.” 

The old pianos have been replaced with 10 grand pianos and 18 uprights. Steinway also is rebuilding the university’s Steinway Model D piano that has been used in concerts. 

Matt Borgialli, a sixth-year chemical engineering and music student, recalls the days when he banged out tunes on the aging pianos. 

Borgialli, who had barely played piano before his freshman year, spent countless hours practicing to become a high-level musician. He now plays on what many consider to be the best pianos made. 

“It was exciting,” he says of the All-Steinway designation. “Any sort of new pianos would have been nice, but it was great that they were Steinway.” 

Besides bringing prestige to the university, the All-Steinway Initiative serves as a rallying point for all university programs. 

“It gets the people in the community to understand what kind of philanthropy is needed to support high-level programs,” Levine says.

Mei Lien Chang and her husband, Wen, have been involved with the campus since the 1990s. When former first lady Betty Ortiz approached her about the initiative, Chang says she enthusiastically jumped on board. 

Ortiz organized a fundraiser early in the $1.5 million Steinway campaign at the president’s residence, and Chang formally joined the effort along with Sharon Hilles, dean of the College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences, and many community leaders. 

“The Steinway piano is the crown jewel of pianos. As an All-Steinway School, this elevates Cal Poly Pomona’s music program to a prestigious level,” says Chang, who helped galvanize support in the Asian community for the campaign. 

Levine says the next goal is to invest in other areas of the department such a new studio, upgrades to the music labs and scholarships. To help raise money, the department is looking at naming opportunities for the recital hall, classrooms and other spaces. 

Also in the works is a competition that will be open
to local K-12 piano students and teachers. The aim is to commission a young composer to create a piece that all of the competitors will play, Levine adds. 

The music department’s effort to get the word out about the All-Steinway designation is working, Levine says. 

Incoming students who toured the campus during fall orientation expressed pride in knowing they were coming to an All-Steinway campus. 

“They were beaming because they already knew,” she says. “They knew that someone felt so good about this department that they gave money to help the students and the future of the Cal Poly Pomona music department.”