Kristina Cheng ’15 forced a smile as she walked onto the stage. Hundreds of Trinity faculty, donors, and San Antonio residents watched as she sat down at the piano and caressed the keys. The senior played a waltz: Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante in E Flat Major. To combat her nerves, she reminded herself of the countless hours of practice she put into learning the piece by heart. Then, she tuned out everything except the sound of the piano.
“I concentrated on telling the story of two people dancing,” Cheng said. “When you understand the characters and ideas and what you want to express, you’re able to connect with the audience. When I’m making the piece come alive, that’s when I start having more fun.”
When she finished, she stood up, knowing she performed the piece exactly how she wanted it to sound. This time, Cheng’s smile was genuine.
The Sound of Music
Cheng, an accounting major, finds relief in music, which stimulates different parts of her brain than her rigidly structured business classes. She enjoys playing several instruments, but piano, which she has played since kindergarten, has become part of who she is.
A music minor, Cheng practices piano every single day for at least an hour and a half—and sometimes as long as three hours. “You can practice forever,” Cheng said. “There’s not really an end to it like with assignments and projects.”
It’s a lot of time to spend sitting in front of the ivory keys. But all those hours have become even more enjoyable since Trinity replaced its aging pianos—all 33 of them—with brand new Steinways, thanks to a gift of nearly $1.5 million from Trinity Trustee James F. Dicke II ’68 and his wife, Janet ’68. The upgrade makes the University an official all-Steinway campus, with a total of 43 pianos. Fewer than 200 schools in the world have this prestigious designation.
To celebrate the designation and to honor the couple who made it possible, the music department held a special concert in November in Ruth Taylor Recital Hall to share the pianos’ beautiful sound and quality. At the dedication, many students and faculty displayed their talents, including Cheng, who performed the Chopin piece on Trinity’s brand new custom-colored Steinway D concert grand piano.
What’s in a name?
When Cheng arrived at Trinity and began her music studies, she played on a variety of brands—Baldwin, Young, and a few Steinways. Many of them were showing the wear and tear of age. Each sounded different, making it difficult to adjust when performing concerts and recitals. They were not great instruments, just good enough.
“Trinity stands for quality—quality students, quality teaching, quality facilities,” said music professor Carolyn True. “We needed to match that quality with the instruments we use.”
The new Steinways fulfilled that quality. Already, the instruments have inspired students to explore their creativity and imagine new interpretations of music. Cheng enjoys playing the new pianos because of their consistent sound, quality tone, and perfect weight of the keys. She loves that each note fills the whole practice room, spilling out into the hallways.
“Each student wants to play more beautifully, more artistically, because they want to meet the expectations of the piano,” Cheng said. “Students are more serious about practicing. The standards have risen for each musician.”
She said she feels privileged to use the new pianos, especially the Steinway D she played at the dedication concert. It’s the largest of Trinity’s new pianos, but it hadn’t originally been on the shopping list. The maroon and black concert grand turned out to be a $140,000 spur-of-the-moment purchase.
A Trip Full of Surprises
The music department began replacing its old pianos one by one in 2010 as the budget allowed. When the music faculty learned they would be able to replace all of Trinity’s old pianos at once, professor True, department chair David Heller, and academic office manager Amy Lazzell hopped on a plane headed to New York to make the selections at the Steinway & Sons factory. They invited the Dickes to join them on the trip.
While True and Heller played each of the pianos in the selection room, Lazzell and the Dickes enjoyed a tour of the Steinway facility. Near the end of the tour, Lazzell and the Dickes stumbled upon a tailor-made, special collection of Steinways. The piano they saw on the tour happened to be customized with beautiful, Trinity-maroon inlay.
A stunning, Trinity-colored piano would add delight to the stage during performances, so the Dickes surprised the music department with an offer to include a 33rd piano, a Steinway D concert grand, in their gift to the University.
Raising the Bar
The new Steinways have benefitted not only the pianists of the department, but everyone in the Trinity community who makes and appreciates music.
“Everyone across campus, every type of instrument and voice is affected by these pianos,” True said. “Every vocalist has a piano collaborator. Without a piano that sings, the poor singers are out there by themselves.”
In addition to the concert grand piano, professors Heller and True also chose the new smaller grands for the practice rooms and studios, where Trinity students have 24-hour access to perfect their craft.
“The all-Steinway designation says a lot to prospective students: that the University cares about music and music education,” Heller said.
Jim Dicke agrees. “These pianos set a place like Trinity University apart from other schools,” he said. “It demonstrates to the public what a special place Trinity is in a tangible way.”