It’s summertime in Senatobia, Mississippi. Temperatures are pushing a hundred, and the subtropical humidity is nearing its annual apex. But at Northwest Mississippi Community College’s Senatobia campus, the workers building the college’s new Northwest Center for Performing Arts haven’t slowed their pace, despite the grueling heat. Over the past year, the building has been rising from the dust to march steadily toward a November 2022 grand opening goal. And in a climate-controlled storage facility not far away, two massive wooden crates crouch expectantly in shadows, their precious cargo kept safe from heat, dust, and humidity. When the new Northwest Center for Performing Arts is ready, these crates will be opened to reveal two Steinway Spirio | r grand pianos—the pièce de résistance of Northwest’s recent campaign to attain the prestigious designation of All-Steinway School.
All-Steinway Schools are colleges, universities, and conservatories that use solely Steinway and Steinway-designed pianos for instruction, practice, and performance. With only about 230 All-Steinway Schools in the world, Northwest is now part of an elite roster of institutions that utilize the world’s finest pianos for teaching, practice, and performance. To make the dream of All-Steinway School status a reality, Northwest Mississippi Community College this year purchased nineteen new Steinway and Steinway-designed Boston pianos, including the two show-stopping Spirio grands.
“We wanted to invest on the highest level in order to uphold our mission of excellence in everything we do. And Steinway was definitely part of this conversation from the beginning.”
It was an ambitious campaign, one that had its roots in the college’s decision to build a new performing arts center in Senatobia, said Jeff Horton, Northwest’s VP for Operations/Finance. “We saw a need to improve our facilities for music students and to improve our offerings to the community at the same time,” he said. As soon as the ball was in motion for the new building, he said, the conversation turned to equipment, furnishings, and instruments.
“We had this beautiful new 67,000-square-foot building underway,” Horton said. “So the next question was, what do we put in it? We looked at the needs of our students, our instructors, and our visiting artists and we knew we were committed to exceptional quality, from top to bottom. We wanted to invest on the highest level in order to uphold our mission of excellence in everything we do. And Steinway was definitely part of this conversation from the beginning.”
Northwest’s Choral Director Reese Norris began working with Gabriel Statom, Institutional Sales Director for Steinway & Sons’ Memphis dealer, Amro Music. When Statom pointed out that Northwest’s plans for a new piano inventory could lead the college toward the prestigious All-Steinway School designation, Norris was intrigued. He approached the administration with the idea, and Northwest’s president, Dr. Michael Heindl, immediately saw the value.
“We have world-class students, world-class faculty and soon will have a world-class rehearsal, teaching, and concert facility,” Norris said. “It seemed logical that we have world-class pianos as well. Buried within this grassroots realization is where the seed was ultimately born.”
Through a combination of fundraising and local allocations, within a few months, plans were in the works for a team of Northwest’s faculty and administration to accompany Statom to the Steinway & Sons headquarters in New York City to tour the historic factory and select the two stunning Steinway Spirio concert grands. The trip was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” that included a Branford Marsalis performance at Carnegie Hall, said Piano Professor Saundra Bishop.
“We were able to see the process of building a Steinway from beginning to end,” she said. “And you don’t realize what goes into these pianos until you see every stage of construction. I’ll never forget it, and it makes me more fully understand the value of the pianos our college has acquired.”
“As a conductor, composer and woodworker, I was mesmerized by the entire process,” Norris said. “These pianos are all hand-made works of art, made in large part by multi-generational Steinway craftsmen.”
“For our faculty and students to be able to have this caliber of piano to practice and perform on is a very big deal for our campus community,” Dr. Heindl added. “Also, being able to partner with Steinway as an All-Steinway School is a game changer for the department and for the college as a whole. It’s equivalent to having the best equipment in any field of study. In healthcare, for example, students and faculty always want to work with the highest quality tools and equipment to give them the best opportunities to learn and train. That’s how I see these instruments—and the opportunity to have that kind of access is rare.”
In addition to the two Spirio | r grands that await uncrating for the Center for Performing Arts, Northwest now has two Steinway grands in its teaching studios, one Boston in the choir rehearsal room, and one Boston in the small instrumental room. Music classrooms are also equipped with Boston upright pianos. Northwest’s music faculty are especially looking forward to offering students the unprecedented teaching and practice opportunities afforded by Spirio | r, which can capture a pianist’s performance—note by note—and play it back exactly as it was recorded.
“Spirio is very intriguing,” Heindl said. “A student can play and record a portion of a piece and then immediately run it back to review it. Can you just imagine what this can do for students?” In fact, students can also access performances by some of the finest pianists in the world, Steinway Artists, who have all recorded works that can be played back on any Spirio. Students have access to a curated library of classical and jazz performances with which to evaluate nuances only capable through the high resolution reperformance system that is Steinway Spirio. “Spirio allows students to get better and better,” Heindl said. “Through these tools, they hone their craft and develop higher levels of expression.”
Bishop agrees. “The Spirio is an absolute game-changer, as are all the other new pianos,” she said. “For a pianist, having access to an excellent piano is like a chef having the finest ingredients and best equipment—it allows you to create your best work. Having unrestrained access to these instruments will have an enormous impact on our day-to-day. I believe that our students will be motivated to practice, their creativity will blossom, and the level of musicianship will be elevated throughout the department. It will certainly send a message to incoming students about the quality of our programs.”
“The Steinway pianos represent a vital cog in the overall experience of the student musician,” Norris said. “What could they want that we cannot, now, provide? To say we are grateful to all involved would be a gross understatement.”
To see a time-lapse slide show of the new Northwest Center for Performing arts, click here.