The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 31, 2013

Local music school seeks coveted Steinway designation

By Lisa Shrewsberry
Lifestyles Editor

BECKLEY — When Dr. Jacob Womack, new director of music at School of Harmony, found he’d have to dig through the piano graveyard of keyboards needing repairs and those with extra parts to find himself something to play on, he wasn’t disheartened, he was motivated.

“This was one of my first initiatives. To have a music and fine arts program, you have to demonstrate a desire for excellence,” he explains.

He knew of no more excellent a name in pianos than Steinway. When Womack contacted Steinway & Sons and shared the school’s numerous successes, including the 2012 West Virginia Governor’s Art in Education Award, he learned about becoming an All-Steinway School of Distinction.

Following a July visit from Patricia Neeper of the Steinway Piano Gallery, Pittsburgh, School of Harmony was invited to apply. What begins now is a campaign for donations to make 90 percent of the school’s pianos Steinways.

“Many of the school’s students have achieved a high level of playing. It was clear they would benefit from having better instruments. This is not just a mark of distinction for Raleigh County, but for the entire state,” comments Womack.

A kickoff event and information session will happen Sept. 27 at the former Harmony Café inside the School of Harmony complex will include a presentation about Steinway & Sons pianos by Neeper and a performance by Dr. Womack. Womack describes how the reputation behind the enduring Steinway name is hard earned.  

“Steinway pianos take several months to build by hand. They use no machines in the making. That’s the big difference.”

The little school that could in Beaver, founded by President/CEO Charles Lee Hicks, is using the kickoff to gain interest in the fundraising campaign that will depend heavily on private donations to secure the 10 Steinways it requires. If successful, School of Harmony will become the only school in West Virginia, and one of only 30 in the world and 20 in the United States, bearing the Steinway School of Excellence distinction.

The school plans Steinway pianos for its primary teaching areas and Steinway grand pianos for the performance areas.

“We will also have a Steinway certified technician — not just anyone can tune these pianos,” explains Womack.

Donors, depending on the size of qualifying donations, may have anything from a plaque designating their part in securing a piano, a classroom honoring their name for donation of an entire piano or the program as a whole permanently named in honor of them or an intended music patron.

The school invites businesses and individuals with a passion for continuing music education to participate in their program. Donations to the 501c3-designated organization are tax-deductible.

In addition to cultivating talent, the Steinway name also attracts it. Womack describes how Steinway-designated artists include the most prestigious players on the world concert stage, names like Yefim Bronfman, Billy Joel, Harry Connick Jr. and Lang Lang. Barbara Nissman of Lewisburg is a local Steinway artist whom Womack references.  

An accomplished pianist in his own right, Womack admits he won’t be seeking his own designation anytime soon.

“We are hoping to one day connect with some of the Steinway artists and bring them in for performances here,” he states, adding that if the first Steinway donation happens by the kickoff, that’s the one he’ll be playing.

For more information on the School of Harmony All-Steinway School of Distinction drive, contact Womack at 304-253-3095.

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com