One of the grandest Steinway pianos at Brooklyn College is sounding a lot better these days, thanks to some help from the Class of '61 50th Reunion Gift Fund and the Brooklyn College Foundation.
The Steinway Model "B" #289139 was purchased by the college in December 1937 and has spent the last 40 years in the Student Center, in a corner of the elegantly appointed State Room. Throughout its 77 years on campus, the piano had been a delight to play, with its warm tones and flawless response, but, despite the care and frequent tunings of the college's piano technician, Zeno Wood, in recent years it had become an embarrassment. "The strings had been replaced a few times, and the pin block that held the strings was worn out," Wood recalls. "I would put my tuning hammer on a pin and get the note in tune, and then just watch as it went back."
Not helping was the dry central heat in the Student Center — comfortable in the winter but deleterious to the long-term health of pianos. A few years ago when then-Student Center Director Ryan Buck was renovating the State Room, he inquired about replacing the piano with a newer model. But Wood saw something there — this was a Steinway Model B from a classic era in the company's history, an exquisite instrument with great balance and dynamic range. Indeed, the Steinway B is sometimes called the "perfect piano" for its versatility and tone. Buck agreed that the piano was worth saving and went campaigning to have it refurbished — a complicated operation costing upwards of $27,000 that replaces nearly all of the piano's 12,000 parts but keeps the cast iron frame and the cabinetry as well as the essential character of the instrument.
His appeal found a welcoming audience with the foundation’s Associate Executive Director Beth Farryn Levine and Alumni Director Marla Schreibman, and the Class of 1961, which was celebrating its 50th reunion, agreed to make saving the piano their class gift, raising more than half of the required funds. Best of all, this was a gift not only for students and faculty, but one that will benefit the entire Brooklyn community that uses the Student Center, whether for intimate concerts given by college faculty artists like Ursula Oppens, or for the annual choral performances by the men and women of Brooklyn Lifelong Learning.
In February the piano was returned to the college from A.C. Pianocraft in Long Island City, where all the hammers, shanks, let-off buttons, damper felts, key bushings, strings, soundboard and pin block were replaced. The exterior of the piano has been refinished, and the instrument now looks as good as it did the day it left the Steinway showroom floor. To combat the dry winters and humid summers, Wood is installing a Dampp Chaser piano climate control system, which will keep the piano stable at an optimal 47 percent humidity.
"It’s not a new piano, but it’s a classic," says Buck, who is now Executive Director of International Student Affairs. "The college bought that piano during the dark days of the Depression as a testament to how important the arts are. And now this piece of history has been brought back to life."