By Brandi Underwood
The red carpet was rolled out Friday along the entrance to the School of Harmony for a very monumental occasion, as the day marked the beginning of the school’s All-Steinway School of Distinction Initiative.
Although the event was less focused on black ties and more focused on black keys, there was a special air of sophistication in the room, as only appropriate for a Steinway & Sons-themed event.
Steeped in tradition and renowned for their unmatched quality, Steinway pianos have a history dating back 160 years. The School of Harmony hopes to join the ranks of the 150 distinguished institutions that currently possess the coveted All-Steinway School distinction in the coming years, an almost unfathomable feat for a community fine arts school in southern West Virginia.
The process of School of Harmony’s consideration as an All-Steinway School of Distinction began in early July after Director of Music Jacob Womack contacted Patricia Neeper, of the Steinway Piano Gallery in Pittsburgh.
Womack explained to Neeper the school’s mission and vision, soon convincing her to come down and visit the school.
As soon as she walked into the door, Neeper realized that there was something very special going on.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said, thinking back on her first visit to the school.
“This school is the poster child for a community arts school. It is everything that any community arts school has ever dreamed of,” she said.
After her experience, Neeper called her Steinway contacts in New York and got the ball rolling on the school becoming an All-Steinway School of Distinction.
“We want every student that walks through the door to be challenged and have their talents developed to their full potential,” said Womack.
“We have excellent faculty, we have the desire, the heart, but we need the instruments,” explained Womack.
While the school has grown leaps and bounds in the past decade, transitioning from a little red building to the former Shady Spring Junior High School building, and from a handful of students to now more than 400, the staff and faculty have growing ambitions that can be better served by upgrading and growing their instrument collection, explained School of Harmony President Charles Lee Hicks.
“We believe that the opportunity that Steinway has provided us with is our key to grow,” said Jacob Womack. “Simply, it will provide the best musical opportunities to the children in our region.”
Beyond supplying growing musicians with the best possible instruments to learn on, the All-Steinway School Distinction is multifaceted and creates opportunities for connections and activities around the world. The program will create opportunities for students to see professional orchestras, visit the opera in Pittsburgh, the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and bring professional pianists to southern West Virginia and work with School of Harmony students one-on-one in master classes.
“Whether they’re pianists, vocalists, string players, horn players, all of the school and, I believe, all of this community will benefit from the All-Steinway School Initiative,” said Neeper. “The philanthropy of the community to support this school, which has done so much to support the community, is very important to make this project a success.”
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