The Mysterious Selection of the Numberless Steinway Model D…

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My last Saturday at the “temporary” Gallery

By Julie Knight

It was a quarter to five, nearly closing time, on Saturday, May 10th.   My husband Dan, my dogs Oscar and Ella, and I were in the Gallery when a severe thunderstorm with high winds sent all of us sprinting to the back of the store for protection. I had locked the doors to the Gallery, because of the wind’s determination to open them. It was rough outside.   img_03631

Just as the whistle of the wind diminished, there was yet another convincing attempt to open the doors. We thought it was Mother Nature’s persistence until we heard a very clear voice.

“Oh, no! They’re closed!”

We jumped. A beautiful young couple, dripping wet from the rain, was standing on the other side of the doors.

 

Brie and Jeff had arrived during one of the angry flashes of Charlotte’s weather. We quickly welcomed them into the Gallery. I assumed they were looking for a dry spot to get out of the storm.

Their intention, however, was not to seek shelter, but instead to shop for a piano to fill a room emptied just for Brie’s “dream” piano. I invited Brie to play each and every instrument in the Gallery to determine whether one of the Steinways or Steinway designed pianos spoke to her. All the while, her husband, Jon, was doing the same thing. Brie sat down to play an Essex Baby Grand in the center of the Gallery. I got chills. Jonathon stopped his playing and came close to Brie and the Essex Baby Grand. We knew she had met the piano for her. It was a match. Brie played. Jon listened. While decisions needed to be made, Brie and Jon were drenched from rain, and dizzy from the potential choices, so they went home to talk it over.

PHONE_PICTURES_June_2014_625Two weeks passed, and Dan, Oscar, Ella and I were spending our last Saturday in the Gallery’s temporary location. The weather was stunning, as I’ve come to discover is often the case in Charlotte. We propped the doors open to welcome the beautiful breeze. While the day was busy, I had been distracted by thoughts about how exciting it was to be part of an incredible time in a business, as it plants its roots in a community. Steinway Piano Gallery-Charlotte was thriving, sprouting new growth, even before it opened in a gorgeous new space just down the street on Smith Corners Boulevard. As renovations were being completed, and my final day in the temporary space was winding down, we looked up to see Brie and Jon walking toward the Gallery.

My last Saturday before the move was about to end in an extraordinary way.

Jon and Brie came in to purchase the Essex Baby Grand they’d discovered on that rainy afternoon two weeks prior. It was a perfect moment for them, a perfect way to close our final Saturday in the “temporary” location, and a perfect beginning to the “new” Steinway Piano Gallery-Charlotte.cw558djpgyow4yozu1tteopzg1paw8flsed-0_preview

 

Thank you Brie and Jon. May your new piano continue to accompany you, as you sing the song of your lives together, and may you sing more beautifully with its presence!

 

 

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One if by land. Two if by sea…

Listen my friends I’ll tell the tale

Of a most unique and unusual sale

With apologies to Longfellow I recount one of the more memorable sales of my career…

It was Boston in the fall of 1993, and students were flocking to the institutions of higher learning that abound in the Boston area. This influx included a great many international students– some of whom were from middle income families, but many of whom were from families of great means and wealth.

I was a young sales associate at the esteemed M. Steinert & Sons piano store which is located on Boylston Street in downtown Boston. This historic 6 story building looks out over the famed Boston Common. On the day in question, the bell at the entryway rang, and in walked a family. They immediately proceeded to survey the pianos on the first floor moving around in a tight circle like a knot.

The Historic Six Story Flagship Building Overlooking the Boston Common

Historic Six Story  Building Overlooking Boston Common

I introduced myself and inquired as to their needs. The father informed me that his daughter had been accepted at Harvard University: in addition, she had been accepted as a student by one of the piano faculty at The New England Conservatory. “We are in need of a piano for her dorm room– a Steinway.”

We began our journey with a focus towards the smaller grands and uprights. Winding our way through the pianos in the various showrooms on all the floors, we eventually found our way to a recently debuted Model S in North American Cherry wood with a Hepplewhite furniture design. This piano was a first in what was to become a very successful—and well-loved–line of instruments from Steinway’s “Crown Jewel” series.

The Hepplewhite Crown Jewel Grand

The Hepplewhite Crown Jewel Grand

I pointed out the exquisite workmanship, the exotic veneer as well as the sublime sound and action. I asked the daughter to play. I told them of the uniqueness that is inherent in each Steinway. The journey each instrument takes during the thirteen months necessary to craft a grand piano. They were enchanted, thrilled, enamored… But…

In low tones they conversed in their native language which I had learned was Thai. The discussion became more animated and eventually the father turned to me and explained. “We love this instrument, but it is just too large for our daughter’s dorm room. We must look at uprights.”

We took the elevator back to the first floor, and I led them to a Steinway Sheraton upright that had accompanied the Crown Jewel S into our inventory. It was also an North American Cherry Hepplewhite design, and, in a matter of moments, was unanimously chosen to be the new instrument for their daughter’s college residence.

As I sat with the father preparing the paperwork, I mused out loud as to how unfortunate it was that the room could not accommodate the desired grand. How evident it was that they truly loved the sound, the look, the style. It was an instrument that was destined to become an heirloom for the family that owned it.

He looked at me, paused and then asked, “Can the grand piano by packed so that it could be transported safely by ship?” Why, “yes” I explained, “this is easily done.”   He informed that they had been purchasing some furniture and other items while in the states. They had a container that would be leaving from New York Harbor in about ten days to carry these items back to Thailand. “Can you have it delivered to the container he asked?” Why, “yes” I proclaimed with rising enthusiasm. “Well then I believe we would like not one, but two Steinway & Sons Crown Jewel instruments today.” “Why not!” I exclaimed!

He then handed me a visa and said, “charge it”. I looked at the small piece of plastic in my hand. I looked at the rather large number on the purchase agreement. I looked back at the small card in my hand, and slowly made my way to the credit card terminal. I swiped the card. I typed in the rather large amount. I waited for the “call center” or the “are you crazy” message, and was shocked when seconds later the approval code appeared and the receipt began to print from the machine.

I could not contain my curiosity. Mr. Pradipasen, what is it you do? (The card had cleared so quickly?).

“I am in banking,” he explained as he handed me his card. And indeed he was, for Mr. Pradipasen was, in fact, the Director and Senior Executive Vice President of the Siam Commercial Bank!!!

The City of Bangkok

The City of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya River

So it was perhaps only a month or two later that from the harbor of Bangkok, Thailand there set forth a rider, perhaps not upon a horse, but likely on a bike as is so common in that country. A rider who rode through the streets of the city proclaiming “a Steinway is coming, a Steinway is coming”. Yes, sometimes it may only be one if by land, but if you are lucky perhaps it can be two if by sea.

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Documentation! A story of the Steinway Model S…

Several years ago, a well know developer in Philadelphia named Carl Dranoff contacted me, because he was interested in purchasing a Steinway grand piano for his new building adjacent to Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. This new beautiful luxury condominium high rise had been appropriately named Symphony House, and the residents of the city had watched it grow over Broad Street during the winter and into late spring.

Symphony House

Symphony House on the Avenue of the Arts

I met Mr. Dranoff at the Steinway selection room at Jacobs Music Company to show him the various options available to him. Knowing his concern for space, I lead him directly to Steinway’s 5’ 1” Model S.  The smallest of the Steinway Grands, this model first debuted in 1936 and its design and creation are Steinway lore. “Mr. Dranoff,” I said, “this instrument would be the perfect complement to your new building. It has a Philadelphia connection.”  As the story goes, in the early 1930’s the great pianist, Josef Hoffman, was the director of Philadelphia’s famed Curtis Institute of Music. Mr. Hoffman desired a smaller Steinway grand which would fit into the confined practice spaces of Curtis. During this time Josef was in constant correspondence with his friend and contemporary Theodore Steinway of Steinway & Sons.  It was with Hoffman’s steady encouragement and feedback as well as the evolution of Steinway’s revolutionary new “Diaphragmatic Soundboard” that the ingredients for the design and production of this remarkable new Steinway came together and this model became a reality.

The originals plans for the revolutionary "Diaphragmatic" soundboard.

The original plans for the revolutionary “Diaphragmatic” soundboard.

“This Model S would be the perfect instrument for Symphony House,” I told Mr. Dranoff, “with its Philadelphia (Curtis) roots it creates a triangle of excellence: Symphony House, The Kimmel Center, and Curtis.” Mr. Dranoff loved the story and the marketing angle, so he immediately authorized its purchase. I was elated!

Two days later I received a call from Mr. Dranoff’s executive assistant. “Mr. Love, Mr. Dranoff would like you to provide him with some documentation on the story you told him about the Model S.” “Documentation?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, “documentation.” Her tone and tenure left no doubt that this was of great importance to Mr. Dranoff and without it both reputation and sale could be at risk.

I hung up having gone from elated to deflated in a single call. So, I called the Steinway factory in search of documentation. My first stop was the then Executive Vice President of Steinway, Mr. Frank Mazurco. “Documentation!” he exclaimed, “That is a story told down through the generations, and I am not aware of any documentation. Why don’t you try Peter Goodrich (Concert & Artists Director)? He has all the old Steinway Magazines and there might be something there. Thus, my next stop was with Peter. “Documentation!” said Peter, “I’ll look but I cannot recall anything about this story in the magazines.”

Several days later he called with words I didn’t want to hear—he hadn’t been able to find the Model S story. Sensing my desperation, he encouraged me to set up a phone call with Henry Z. Steinway- the great grandson of the founder of Steinway & Sons. Mr. Steinway, then in his early nineties, was the voice of sophistication and class. When I spoke to him, his response was a more refined yet no less emphatic “Documentation?” Fortunately, he began to muse… “My Uncle Ted’s papers were donated to the University of Maryland, and if there is anything to be found that is where you would find it.” I thank him for his guidance and began the next phase in my search for documentation.

I tracked down the phone number for the archive department and dialed the number. “Documentation?” said the graduate assistant, when I explained my story and my need. “Sir, we have boxes and boxes of materials from Theodore Steinway!” But I persisted- politely encouraging him that any papers from the 1930s with the Model S or Curtis referenced would be greatly appreciated. He agreed, somewhat dubiously, to look through the files for me. Several days later the assistant called with surprising news –he had found two letters which seemed to be what I was looking for. A scan and email later, I had in my possession two letters which related to the advent of the Model S: A letter on Curtis letterhead, signed by Josef Hoffman, requesting the delivery of six of the new Model S pianos, and a personal note on stationary from the ‘Red Coach Inn of Niagra Falls’ in which Mr. Hoffman expresses his appreciate and warm regards for the new Model S to his good friend Theodore Steinway.

 

Josef Hoffman orders six of the new Model S Grands for Curtis.

Josef Hoffman orders six of the new Model S Grands for Curtis. (plus a Model D or two)

A personal note of appreciation from Josef to Theodore Steinway

A personal note of appreciation from Josef to Theodore Steinway

If you are in Philadelphia and make your way to the eight floor club at Symphony House take a look behind the Model S in residence there and you will see prominently featured and framed “Documentation!”

This story, for me, is like each Steinway… unique and priceless.

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Behind the Scenes of a Steinway Artist: Part I

julie and dan2

Steinway artist, Dan Knight, and his wife Julie.

Twenty-five years ago, before Dan and I were married, he told me he wanted to be a Steinway Artist.

“Why do you want to be a Steinway Artist?” I asked him.   I really didn’t know what it meant.

“To be a Steinway Artist,” he said, “is to be acknowledged as one of the best pianists in the world.”  No small achievement, I thought.

“So what does it take to be a Steinway Artist?” I asked.

“You have to prove you’re one of the best.   You need recommendations from other Steinway Artists.   Recordings.   Reviews.   The first thing the Steinway people ask you, though, is the serial number of your personal Steinway.   They want you to make a lifetime investment in you, before you make a lifetime investment in them.”

“They don’t just give you a piano?” I asked, innocently enough.   Dan shook his head, “No.   We have to buy one.”

I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Yeah, sure,” then went on with the task of fixing our dinner.  I let the spaghetti sauce cook down to the right consistency as I briefly thought about a Steinway for Dan.  I really didn’t consider it for any longer than that.

It was just that simple.   I had asked.  He had answered.  Of course he needed a piano.   Sounded like he needed a Steinway.

As we sat at the table, enjoying our meal together, I got a little more curious.

“So.   What does a Steinway cost, anyway?”

“Thousands,” he said, “tens of thousands of dollars.”   It was more money than I could imagine.   For a piano?

Dan KnightThere’s a reason they call Steinway “the instrument of the Immortals”–most of the greatest pianists and composers of the past century were Steinway Artists.   The Steinway Piano was their choice.  They’re simply the best pianos in the world.

As I learned from Dan why it was so important for him to have a Steinway, it became my dream, too.   Together we planned our budget, and started the search for the piano of his dreams.   The day he found a particular, “special” Steinway Model O, was a day that changed our lives forever.  I named her “Oline,” after my maternal grandmother.  When Dan played her, it was obvious that this was “his” piano.   Dan needed an instrument that would speak to him.   “She” was the one.

With the purchase of “Oline,” and after his audition performance at Steinway Hall in New York City two months later, Dan became a Steinway Artist.

He said, “Steinway is the instrument of dreams.”  It was a dream come true for both of us.

This grand old lady will be with us for the rest of our lives.

The voice of Steinway speaks to us, through “Oline” at home, and through the Steinway pianos which sing as Dan plays them in clubs, salons, festivals and concert halls around the world.   The sound, his sound, reaches into the hearts of audiences wherever we go.   Even when we’re at home and the audience is just me.

Ask me now about the value of owning a Steinway, and I’ll tell you.   I can state it in one word.

The word?

“Priceless.”

 

 

 

Attend a performance Dan Knight– learn more by clicking here

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Parent’s Perspective

Warm-up Kizely 2010

Warming up on the piano prior to a recital.

All parents know the feeling—the feeling of anxious anticipation which is experienced when your child is performing in some way…your child is about to speak in front of the entire school, step onto the baseball mound to throw the first pitch of the game, or sing a part in a musical. Of course, we don’t want our children to know how nervous we are for them, nor do we really want other parents to notice either… and, isn’t it always the case that, as we are trying to reign in our nerves, another parent struts by, head held high, confident that their child will more than succeed (“what? Me be nervous for __________ [fill in the name]—How silly…this is no big deal…” —though, in my experience raising three children, these parents often care far more than they are letting on, but, hey! That’s a blog for another day). But, back to the nerves—that fluttery feeling in your stomach…the feeling that you can’t sit down, or sit still… that tension which is felt in your joints… oh, dear!

I was feeling all these sensations the first time our daughter was to perform a piano piece in front of an audience. Now, mind you, she was six years old and feeling none of them! She was just impatient to get on stage in order to demonstrate to the world what she could do. Nerves? Not! Those were allotted to me! I truly didn’t let on how nervous I was for her. She was in the front row with the other children – seated according to their order in the recital. Mark and I were situated so that we could watch her fingers (as all concert goers do when they care about watching a pianist, or budding one, as the case may be).

Performathon on Steinway's amazing Peace Piano.

The Play for Peace Perform-athon at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. Children played on Steinway’s Peace Piano to raise money for the Red Cross.

As I sat awaiting the recital (why, oh why do these things always take forever to start…), as the butterflies in my stomach threatened to take flight, I had a certain amount of perspective… I knew how very silly it was to feel nervous for my daughter. First, she had practiced and could play the piece quite well. Second, she was six, just six years old. If she completely forgot her piece on stage, she would recover quite quickly. More than likely, she wouldn’t be the least bit upset, and even if she was it would be put aside as soon as the reception started (hey, there were cookies and punch!). Third, in the grand scheme of things, or even in the smallest scheme of things, what did it really matter whether she played the piece well or not? These thoughts were calming… but, then along came the fourth one, and this realization really didn’t help matters at all: if I thought this little recital was nerve-wracking, what would I do when she played much harder pieces as she advanced? Oh dear—this was the first of who-knows-how-many—plus—we have—two-other-children—performances! Oh no! The nerves kicked in something fierce! UGH! Why do I have children who like to perform? Geez! I am not cut out for this life!

Mark Love's daughter Fall 2006 Member Event

After a recital– note the cake!

She stepped onto the stage—so pretty in her favorite blue dress– she sat at the Steinway grand, so small, yet so determined… she was playing a duet with her teacher who was seated at another grand… and, with a nod of her head, she let her teacher know that she was ready to start. Head bobbing as she counted a measure to choose the tempo, they began….

Now it is a beautiful memory, with many similar added to it… at varying levels of success. There have been times when the music got the better of her, and she stumbled, and other times when her fingers have flown expertly across the keyboard. Recitals, talent shows, fundraisers, church functions, orchestra concerts… through all these events, we have witnessed the fruits of our daughter’s practice.   These experiences have translated to other areas of life– she has learned how to work hard, set goals and achieve them, thereby gaining self-confidence, poise, and self-esteem.

2010 Kizely Recital

Award ceremony for auditioned recital.

Do I still get nervous for my children? You betcha!  As uncomfortable as it may be, however, those butterflies are worth it.

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What better way to get to know thy neighbor?

I am thrilled to be in Charlotte.  What is not to love? The seventy degree weather, the warmth and kindness of those you meet, the beauty of Davidson College, or the great programming on WDAV… which brings me to this weekend and a night with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.  In late January, I had the opportunity to attend a performance while touring the area with Dom Cicchetti of Steinway & Sons. When he called to inquire about attending, the marketing staff immediately invited us to join them for the evening program –Brahms Symphony #2.  Tired and in entirely the wrong clothing (we had been looking for potential storefronts all day), I was a reluctant participant as I accompanied Dom into the beautiful Belk Theater in Uptown, Charlotte.

The Beautiful Belk Theater

The Beautiful Belk Theater

Wow, what a wonderfully serendipitous evening.  We arrived and were greeted by Molly Morgan the Marketing Manager for the symphony.  She had reserved two seats in the front row of the balcony (another story and one best avoided by those with an aversion to heights).  Just prior to the show I noticed a small kiosk in one corner of the lobby and ventured over to  investigate.  I had the great fortune of meeting the marketing manager, Mr. Will Keible, for WDAV and one of their esteemed board members Mr. Clay Furches. This led to a enjoyable conversation, and an invitation to visit the station within the next week.

Steinway Artist Stephen Hough

Steinway Artist Stephen Hough

The sound in the theater is truly glorious; the theatre provides a very warm ambiance. I found that each section of the orchestra would reach my ears as a distinct entity yet part of the whole.  This is a really pleasing way to hear Brahms and I thoroughly enjoy the program and the evening.

I am returning this weekend as guests of Ms. Tia Wackerhagen and Ms. Megan Powers of the Charlotte Symphony and I am very excited to be present for a performance by Steinway Artist Mr. Stephen Hough.  If you are planning on attending please let me know as I would love to meet you and to continue this warm and wonderful process of getting to know thy neighbor… in Charlotte!

 

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Another Moving Day

Moving day 2007 was quite different than the afore-described blizzard…the day was not nearly as, well, as grand, yet it was every bit as magical.

Overcast with a chill in the air, the weather made mockery of the anticipated event….rain threatened but did not materialize. Working from home, I kept an ear out for sounds from the street which might indicate that a truck was approaching. Thus distracted, memories crept into my mind, first small, tentative, then growing, as they gained confidence and momentum, and held me captive.

Childhood scenes, like short movie clips, flashed across the screen of my mind. I could see, but fortunately not hear, my father playing the fiddle (as he was known to call his violin) by our piano. Approximating as many of the notes as he hit, he would sometime lasso one of the family’s pianists into accompanying him….we seldom offered our services willingly as his playing, while enthusiastic, left much room for improvement.  I could see my mother, practicing Mozart and Brahms, Beethoven and Bach, all before most of us had eaten breakfast. I could see my older brothers practicing as well… at varying levels of expertise. I could see our dearest friends—choir directors and organists from our church—playing and singing after dinner.  Such times were highlights of my childhood as laughter, talent, beautiful music and joy filled our living room. I could see Christmas with the tree not far from the piano; its lights reflecting on the wood and casting a mystical glow. Holiday music would alternate between the piano and stereo. I could see my college roommate, Diane, and I playing Brahms Hungarian Dances for four hands… me working hard to keep up with Diane’s lightning fast fingers and sight-reading skills. But mostly, I could see the keyboard–the beautiful crest of the Steinway just to the right of middle C. I could hear, yes, hear the pieces I worked so hard to perfect as I logged hours a day on the piano bench.

This music has become part of my fabric, the melodies—threads– interwoven into my very being. To this day, just a few notes of a phrase will bring back entire sonatas, waltzes and preludes, and so often this music is accompanied by memories and emotions.

A large non-descript truck pulled up in front of my house. With its journey from Shaker Heights, OH complete, my family’s Steinway Model M would soon be gracing our living room – commanding attention and respect. Our children would practice and hone their talents on it just as my family had years ago. Piano music played by young, eager fingers would fill our house, and music would become part of our children’s beings now… and would help mold their personalities. New memories would be created with this piano in its rightful place– front and center.

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Neither Wind, Nor Sleet, Nor Snow…

Last Wednesday’s snowstorm was the biggest to hit the Piedmont region in decades, but it was not going to stop the delivery of our first twenty-three pianos! When the call came from Gordon, the Keyboard Carriage driver, that he was making his way up I-77 with our truckload of Steinways, I was out the door in no time flat. Gordon and I met at Steinway Piano Gallery—Charlotte’s temporary location in the Northlake Village, and awaited on the arrival of Ryan and his crew from Carolina Moving Company.

The crew arrived around 10:0 a.m. in conjunction with the first snowflakes of the impending storm. They quickly went to work offloading fifteen grand pianos and eight uprights. Who says I'm not a  mover...Our 1st Steinway!

By noon, the parking lot was swathed in a sheet of downy white snow which was at least three inches deep– and rising. The lighthearted banter about the storm, and Charlotte’s reaction to it, began to take on an edge as the assembled crew, many who grew up in the north (nobody’s from Charlotte), realized that this was a winter storm with enough accumulation to be an issue in any area– be it Boston, Des Moines, or Philadelphia!

On another day, you will hear Steinway Artist Dan Knight’s story about how he brave the elements to bring pizza to the hungry crew. Dan was on hand with camera and smile as the pianos arrived and graciously volunteered to make the ten minute trip to the pizza shop. Dan's Pizza Trip

He arrived, smile still intact (amazingly), some two hours later having entered the endless bumper to bumper crawl on W.T. Harris Blvd. Being the good Iowa boy that he is, he eventually took his four wheel drive off road and went country to make it back to the store.Set Up Grands

The crew and I made the prudent decision to just uncrate and assemble the instruments, rather than worry about creating the display and layout the store…that could be completed another day. Ryan returned from a run to the dump to dispose of the first truckload of piano debris with the unfortunate news that snow apparently can close a dump too…Really? I broke into a refrain of Alice’s Restaurant but it seems that I was singing to the wrong generation and it went right over their head. We were forced to fill the back of the store with the significant amount of garbage that accumulates from unwrapping so many pianos.Lots of Steinway Crates

We decided that we best get out and get on our respective ways home. So ended our first day… a unique and memorable day. However, any day in which you receive twenty three pianos is going to be a unique and memorable day in my book. The store may be cluttered and the back may filled with trash, but there is beauty in a Steinway that transcends all. Even the Wind, the Sleet, the Snow…

Regards,

Mark

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