Swaddled in blue moving blankets and turned on their sides, the 11 legless Steinway pianos rode belted to the walls of a box truck from Queens to their new home in Lower Manhattan: the practice rooms, rehearsal spaces, and performance venues in NYU’s new John A. Paulson Center at 181 Mercer Street.
These 11 made up the second group of 23 Steinway pianos that were procured for the newly opened building, a $2 million purchase that represents one of the largest deliveries ever for the renowned piano manufacturer. Their arrival is a game-changer for the Steinhardt School’s music program and its students, who will now have access to world-class instruments in the center’s state-of-the-art practice and performance spaces.
The instruments will transform the studies of hundreds of NYU Steinhardt musicians.
“It’s an investment in the future of arts programming at NYU Steinhardt,” said Marilyn Nonken, professor of Music and Music Education, chair of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, and a concert pianist. “It absolutely raises the bar for orchestral music, chamber music, musical theater, and solo performers. The presence of these exquisite instruments elevates all of our programs and will benefit our students for years to come.”
The purchase includes two nine-foot concert grand pianos, nine seven-foot models, and 12 that measure almost six feet, each weighing between 600 and almost 1,000 pounds. They join another 70 Yamaha uprights in the new building.
Their delivery and set-up had its own choreography. With four men hugging each piano, the truck’s mechanical lift gingerly lowered them three feet to the sidewalk. Sweating despite the cold temperature, the movers slowly maneuvered the instruments from the sidewalk to the freight elevator and from there to the music rooms on the fifth and sixth floors.
After a delivery that stretched over two days, the pianos remained on their sides in locked rooms for several weeks.
“They are just off the factory floor and they need to get acclimated to the space,” said Karen Beluso, Steinway & Sons International Sales Manager, who oversaw the purchase.
The piano movers returned to 181 Mercer a few weeks later to unpack and set up the instruments. It took one mover only five minutes to unwrap the piano and screw on two of its three legs and lyre box, which houses the pedal mechanism. Crouching near where the third leg would go, he shimmied the instrument to the edge of its moving board and lifted it onto its two feet. After ratcheting the third leg in place, he folded the blankets and moved on to the next.
Days later, technicians removed the stabilizers and interior packing that secured each piano’s 12,000 individual parts. In a final step, Steinway will send piano technicians to regulate each instrument's action and perfect its sound.
Within days of the building’s January 23 opening, NYU Steinhardt musicians were reaping the benefits of the new instruments. Snippets of West Side Story escaped from the Ensemble Rehearsal Room, where students practiced conducting as a pianist played the concert grand. In Room 642, Savannah Bergli, a first-year Piano Performance master's student who is also pursuing a teaching certificate, was practicing a Beethoven sonata.
“I felt so at ease because I knew that playing on these beautiful instruments will have me better prepared for concerts and performances,” the 24-year-old from Oslo, Norway, said later. “I felt a huge difference in my playing on an instrument of such high quality. A good instrument is more than a necessity. I think the new Steinway pianos will benefit all students in a way that we can now be better equipped for our professional endeavors.”
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