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Lewisville To Make Grand Purchase

The Lewisville Texan Journal
By Steve Southwell - September 15, 2016

At 9 feet long, 990 pounds, a Steinway Model D concert grand piano’s cast-iron plate withstands over 45,000 pounds of crushing tension from its strings. Made of iron, wood, brass, and steel, the exquisite machine is seldom described by anyone knowledgeable about pianos without using a string of superlatives.  It is the standard for filling a concert hall with sound.  And now after years of saving and waiting, and the sacrifices of donors, the City of Lewisville will own one.

The Lewisville City Council approved the purchase of the piano Monday night for permanent residence in the city-owned Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theater.

The city will spend $70,608 from the Community Activities Fund along with $36,982 in private donations to buy the piano for $107,590. 

Council member Neil Ferguson said a Steinway Model D concert grand piano is prized by performers.  

“When you are booking a performer who will be using an acoustic piano in the main hall, they will inevitably ask if you will be renting a piano, or have a resident piano,” said Ferguson. “When you say you have a resident piano, and tell them it is a 9-foot Steinway Model D, they will immediately raise their impression of your facility, and ask no more questions about the piano, or ask for anything else instead.”

“Call it game over.”

Both the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, and the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas have Steinway Ds. The famed Van Cliburn piano competition in Fort Worth uses Steinways exclusively. According to Pianobuyer.com, the Model D’s suggested retail prices range from $160,900 to $244,200 depending on the wood and finish.

In a memo to the council, City Manager Donna Barron described the piano as having previously been “lightly used” in a private home.  University of North Texas Regents Professor of Piano, Dr. Pamela Mia Paul auditioned the piano on behalf of the city, and reported it to be in excellent condition, strongly recommending the purchase.

The donations for the purchase come from the 88 Keys Initiative, a fundraiser that aimed to sell sponsorships of $1,400 for each of the piano’s 88 keys. While the program was not able to raise the full amount, donors contributed $36,982.  The biggest portion of the money raised came from the Greater Lewisville Arts Alliance.  The Community Activities Fund, where the remaining $70,608 will come from, receives $70,000 each year from Medical Center of Lewisville, which purchased the naming rights for the facility.

“The Steinway D is the ultimate piano as far as sound, power and size,” wrote Lewisville composer Tim Brown, who has led the fundraising campaign for the last two and a half years.  “The Steinway D is an absolute mark of excellence for the City of Lewisville.”

Brown credited donors DATCU and the credit union’s CEO Dale Kimble, the Carrollton Music Teachers Association and others for helping to make the purchase happen.

The city advertised for bids on the purchase, and although it received quotes ranging from $64,000 for an 1886 Model D located in Sandy, Utah, to $275,437 for a 2016 Model D located in Miami, Fla., staff recommended the 2014 Model D from Steinway Hall in Dallas.

The piano that city council approved was already sitting in the performance hall of the MCL Grand Theater.  The Lewisville Lake Symphony rented it for Friday night’s performance featuring pianist Baolong Zhang.  

Now, the piano will get to stay at the performance hall.  Instead of trucking it in for the symphony’s performances, the symphony can roll it 40 feet from its closet onto the stage.

Melinda Camp, director of the MCL Grand, was already making plans for storage of the piano.  A storage room just back stage in the facility’s 296-seat proscenium theater was originally built to store the house pianos.  But when the facility was first built in 2010, to save money, the room was not built with its own climate control.  Camp said she’s currently looking into having a contractor install padded walls, climate control, and other features designed to protect the investment.  

Camp says the storage should help the piano hold its tuning and regulation.  She believes the modifications will come in under $20,000, and will save some costs by allowing the facility to keep the one small room temperature controlled, and cut off the heating and cooling for the theater when it is not in use.

Steinway Hall has advised the city on storage, she says.  Nowell Gatica, chief piano technician at Steinway Hall, was busy Monday night voicing the piano for the upcoming performance.  Voicing is a process of adjusting the hardness of the piano’s felt hammers to soften or brighten the tone.  Gatica explained that the pianos ideally need to be stored in consistent temperature and humidity conditions.  A temperature of 72 degrees and humidity of 40 to 60 percent is ideal, he explained.

A city council action would likely be to set a new rental fee for the piano’s use.  Camp said the MCL Grand already has rental rates for its pianos, and that it has a rate on the books of $185 per day.  She said that rate would probably be changed.  

“We’re not trying to make money on it,” Camp said.  “We’re just trying to recover our costs.”

The rental rate is expected to be lower than what groups like the symphony are currently paying.  A big part of the cost is having the piano trucked in, and having technicians to spend hours tuning and voicing it after the move. It will still need some tuning before performances.

Ferguson, who is contributing personal funding for two of the 88 keys, said the piano coupled with the acoustics of the performance hall will be a draw for performers.  

“To the artists you are saying, ‘Perform here, and we will offer you the best.’ To the audience you are saying, ‘Come here, and you will hear the best.’”

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