Out with the Old, In with the New Steinway

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University of Mobile is the 185th “All-Steinway School” in the world, after completing a year-long fundraising campaign to replace an inventory of aging pianos with 24 Steinway pianos.

Now, students in the Christian university’s Alabama School of the Arts are practicing and performing on pianos considered by many professional musicians to be the finest instruments in the world.

Sally Coveleskie, national director of higher education for Steinway & Sons Inc., made it official with a presentation Nov. 18 at Cottage Hill Baptist Church during Christmas Spectacular, UM’s 14th annual holiday musical extravaganza featuring over 250 musicians.

“We are delighted to welcome University of Mobile to our family of All-Steinway Schools. What an impressive campaign this was!” Coveleskie said. The designation of All-Steinway School means 90 percent of the university’s piano inventory, from the practice room to the recital hall, must be designed by Steinway & Sons.

UM raised $518,950 in one year through the “All Steinway, All Together” campaign. A $250,000 matching donation kicked off the campaign. Donors Sherry Turner and Mike Atkins of Naples, FL provided the initial donation in honor of Dr. Roger and Linda Breland “for 50 years of mentoring, teaching and equipping the next generation of Christian leaders and performers.”

Turner and Atkins said from the moment they met Breland and students traveling with the vocal ensemble Voices of Mobile, “we sensed that the university was making a significant investment in our future leaders for Christ. We were instantly intrigued with the possibilities to partner in that effort. Our love for beautiful piano music particularly pulled us toward the All-Steinway effort.

“Our prayer is that achieving this goal will serve to bring more faithful young people to the university to study and to develop their calling to serve Christ. We feel blessed to have had a part in this effort and know that all praise belongs to Christ for this wonderful vision coming to life there,” they said.

UM Associate Professor of Music Dr. Kadisha Onalbayeva, who is an internationally recognized Steinway Artist, and Associate Professor of Piano Becky Fox, who has taught over 35 years at the institution, were co-chairs of the All Steinway, All Together campaign.

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“Being an All-Steinway School is not only a dedication to a commitment of excellence, but it also provides the world’s best instruments for students and faculty. This will help us bring a higher standard to music education and grow academically. We will see a difference,” Onalbayeva said.

Music composition and piano major Emily LaForce said practicing on Steinways makes a world of difference.

“My ear is better developed; my dynamics are getting so much better. As far as touch goes, it’s consistent; you don’t have to adjust for each piano. I think the audience hears a truer portrayal of the music I’m playing, because I have a clearer idea of what I’m practicing,” she said.

LaForce said she is excited that “everybody has rallied together to support our cause to become an All-Steinway School. This is huge for our piano department, and significant for our community, that we are upholding excellence in this way.”

Gifts of Love
Tonya Gollotte, executive director for corporate and foundation relations in the Office for Advancement, said raising all the funds needed to replace 30-year-old pianos within one year “is just remarkable.”

“We are so thankful to all of our donors who graciously gave to this campaign and weren’t afraid to dream big with us. This campaign was successful for two reasons: God and our donors. We are truly blessed,” Gollotte said.

Throughout the campaign, one word continued to surface as donors spoke of their motivations to give: Love.

“My gift is for my dear friend Kadisha; for the college my husband and I have loved and served for many years; in memory of my mother, Edith Jordan Wilcox, whose love of the violin and piano has always inspired me; and for the love of Jesus Christ, who has blessed me beyond measure because He first loved me,” said Susan Wilcox Turner.

The owner of Longleaf Land and Timber and local philanthropist is a former University of Mobile trustee and her husband, Dr. Larry Turner, previously served as dean of the School of Education.

Turner and her daughter, Jordan Anne Garner, provided a donation that resulted in the new Steinway M grand piano now located in Onalbayeva’s office in Martin Hall.

The donation in memory of Edith Mae Jordan Wilcox honors a woman who started her education in a one-room schoolhouse, graduated from law school and was admitted to the State Bar, and became an active community volunteer and part of the family land, timber and sawmill business in Washington County, AL.

She graduated from Murphy High School in 1932 and went to Tuscaloosa with her two sisters and mother, where she attended the University of Alabama. She earned an LLB degree from the School of Law in 1939 and was admitted to the State Bar. She was one of five women in her law school class of 85 students.

Mrs. Wilcox and her husband, Roy, married in 1942. While he served in the Army Air Corps in New Guinea, Mrs. Wilcox began a tradition of volunteerism which ended only upon her death on July 12, 2011 in Washington County. Gifts in memory of Dr. Roger Breland’s brother, Billy Breland, provided donors the opportunity to share their love with current and future students of the Alabama School of the Arts.

Donations both large and small combined to match the initial challenge gift from Sherry Turner and Mike Atkins. Significant contributions from Dr. Mark D. Pressley and Mr. and Mrs. Ike Scott of Scott Bridge Co. Inc. helped the university reach its goal by the one-year deadline.

Onalbayeva attributed the campaign’s success to strong teamwork among the leadership team, the Office for Advancement, and the Marketing & Public Relations Office. “We also prayed and believed it could happen!” she said

Good News
News of the All Steinway, All Together campaign spread. Melinda and Louis Mapp of Fairhope, AL learned of the university’s goal and, in addition to making a financial gift, donated their own Steinway in memory of his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. L.E. Faulkner.

“We have been thinking for some time that we wanted to downsize,” Louis Mapp said. They looked for a special home for the Steinway.

“We wanted to be sure it had a home where it would be used and cared for. When we read about University of Mobile’s Steinway project, we thought that was an answer from heaven. It couldn’t be going to a better place,” Mapp said.

What made the donation even more special to the Mapps was a family connection – their daughter and two grandchildren are currently enrolled at UM.

“We’ve been talking about this for several years,” Mapp said. “You know how you know something is right? This is right. Having those connections is the icing on the cake.

“It would make my grandparents feel really good. We’re thrilled,” he added.

Onalbayeva played the piano in the Mapp’s home before it was transported to campus. She said the piano, which was fully restored in 1967, has “a wonderful sound, a warm tone and great touch.”

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Joy and Inspiration
UM students were an integral part of the campaign, from traveling to New York to select the piano honoring Billy Breland, to unwrapping new pianos delivered to Martin Hall, and showcasing their talents at special concerts for donors.

“There was so much joy, emotion and excitement from the students when the new instruments arrived. There were numerous comments about the beautiful tone they were getting from the instruments, and you could see it was a huge positive impact on their practice habits and, in turn, more inspired performances in concerts,” Onalbayeva said.

As a Steinway Artist, “I feel that I have been blessed to be able to experience the joy and inspiration of practicing and performing on the best pianos in the world, Steinway. As a music professor, I kept thinking about how I could share this same feeling with all of our students and faculty at University of Mobile. If all of our students had access to Steinway pianos, then I knew our students would also experience this heightened level of inspiration, and an even stronger commitment to excellence,” she said.

Onalbayeva said the university is just beginning to see the benefits of becoming an All-Steinway School.

“I am seeing very positive feedback from potential students and from faculty about recruiting in general, as incoming students can see this commitment to excellency by providing them the very best pianos available,” she said. “I think the All-Steinway School designation is going to be extremely beneficial.”

Gollotte added, “We’ve heard joyful, most perfect ‘sounds’ of love and giving since the beginning of this campaign. Whether it be the answer to a call-to-action by our matching gift donors by so many, an 80-year-old woman seeing a life-time dream of hers realized by playing a Steinway for the first time, seeing the amazement in the eyes of students when they toured the Steinway Gallery, many honoring loved ones by giving to the campaign, to the actual mechanics of a campaign run by design through cooperation and collaboration of many dedicated faculty and staff – this campaign has blessed all who have participated. To all of our 157 donors, we say thank you! The impact made to the University of Mobile will be felt for years to come.”

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy is an award-winning media relations director and former journalist whose expertise has enabled the University of Mobile to gain national and regional attention. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Auburn University and worked as a journalist for 12 years, including 10 years at the Mobile Press-Register, earning regional and national awards for coverage of education, deadline reporting and feature writing. She joined the University of Mobile staff in 1993, earning awards for writing and public relations including the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing in 2015 and 2012. She is a charter member of Providence United Methodist Church, serves on the board of the John Will Scholarship Foundation, and is a member of the Public Relations Council of Alabama, Baptist Communicators Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. Kathy lives in Daphne with her husband, Chuck, who earned his M.B.A. from the University of Mobile. They have two children and two grandchildren.