UWG Receives New Kawai Piano Fleet

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A grand piano is made up of more than 9,000 precision parts of wood, metal and fiber, and when fitted together, creates a beautiful instrument. A Shigeru Kawai Grand uses Japanese Ezo Spruce grown in the mountains of Hokkaido, Japan. The extreme climate and high altitude of Hokkaido produce a wood that is prized for its close, even grain.

Less than one percent of all highly prized Kawai Grand pianos handcrafted is a Shigeru Kawai piano and this summer the University of West Georgia received five of them.

Summer was great for the Department of Music faculty and music students at UWG. In all, 29 new Kawai and the treasured Shigeru Kawai Grand pianos were delivered to the university’s music department, compliments of the Shigeru Kawai Endowment and the Elite Performing Instrument Collection program or EPIC.

Anyone who has visited the Humanities Building earlier in the summer can testify that most of the pianos available to music students and faculty were on average 36 years old, about 20 years past its prime in piano years.

This semester, music students are having a ball. Performing on a Shigeru piano is a unique experience for a pianist since it immediately responds to the slightest variations in touch. The Kawai piano is capable of a wider range of nuances and becomes an intimate extension of the pianist’s heart and mind.

“I’ve already started practicing more,” said Harold Walbert of Lithia Springs, a junior and music major. “It’s a beautiful instrument. It’s a great program; it’s a great department. I’ve not had a bad teacher yet.”

“The story of the pianos is one with many greats,” said Dr. Kevin Hibbard, chair and professor of music. “Great for the students enrolled at UWG and for future music students. Great for the performances that the university will produce and that many will hear and appreciate.”

The serendipitous story of the pianos begins with a pedagogy conference trip made by four UWG students and a music professor.

When Dr. Carol Gingerich, associate professor of music, selected four students to accompany her to a World Piano Pedagogy Conference, she asked that they pay their own tickets. That didn’t stop them and Gingerich could not have foreseen the impact their attendance would have on the music program.

The groups’ enthusiasm so impressed Cory Collins at the conference, he offered to meet with university faculty and administrators to share information on the EPIC program and to assess the piano fleet at UWG. As director of Institutional Relations for Kawai Piano, he usually reserved these meetings for private institutions.

Collins’ informative meeting and accurate piano assessment spurred Hibbard and Dr. Andrew Leavitt, executive director of the UWG Foundation, Inc. into action. If West Georgia could raise the money to purchase the pianos at a cost significantly reduced by the Shigeru Kawia Endowment, new pianos at West Georgia would become a reality.

Armed with a generous donation by a UWG Foundation trustee and the support of Dr. Thomas Hynes, vice president for Academic Affairs, and Dr. Don Rice, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Hibbard and Leavitt were able to secure the finances necessary to receive the Shigeru Kawai Endowment.

By purchasing a new Kawai piano fleet, UWG became the first public university — and only the fourth school nationwide — to be designated by Kawai as an EPIC institution.

“Becoming a Kawai Epic Institution will have an astounding impact on the daily life of students and faculty,” said Gingerich. “It affords access to the highest levels of music making, provides for the basic necessities of instruction, and greatly increases our visibility within the musical community.”

As a result of the new pianos, its reputation will continue to grow from the national and international recognition in Kawai’s promotional campaign. Private funding, an endowment and a passion for the piano made a dream come true.