Donors Enable Mason’s Status as an ‘All-Steinway’ University

Posted: August 6, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Linda Monson with student at piano
Linda Monson, Mason’s director of keyboard studies, and Hwana Lee, a senior piano performance major, are thrilled to have Steinways in all the practice rooms.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

By Devon Madison

Beethoven’s “Tempest.” Mendelssohn’s “Restlessness.” Debussy’s “Claire de Lune.” These are some of the classics that deepen the human experience and make us grateful for the gift of music. Lately, the Mason Music Department has had reason to be grateful for a gift no less extraordinary: 16 brand-new Steinway grands, considered the top-of-the-line in pianos.

This spring, Sidney O. Dewberry, who was rector of Mason’s Board of Visitors at the time, spearheaded an initiative to make Mason a registered “all-Steinway” university. Private support totaling nearly $400,000 has been committed by individual donors, with the promise of additional matching funds from the university. This has enabled the Music Department to purchase the pianos for practice studios.

The first nine pianos arrived in June, and the remaining seven will be delivered in August.

Mason Joins a Select Group

By becoming an all-Steinway school, Mason will join the ranks of such prestigious institutions as the Yale School of Music, the Juilliard School and Oberlin College Conservatory.

Linda Monson and Sidney Dewberry
Monson with her student, Sidney O. Dewberry.
Photo by Nicolas Tan

“We are so grateful to all of the donors and the people in the university administration who supported this endeavor,” says Linda Monson, associate chair of the Music Department and director of keyboard studies.

“It’s just incredible what this has done for the Music Department. Being an all-Steinway school is really important. It spells quality, it spells commitment to excellence. And it tells auditioning students — as well as when we are trying to recruit faculty members — that this department knows the importance of quality instruments. It’s transformational. And it’s for everyone. It affects every single student who is here.”

Many piano students don’t have the opportunity to practice on Steinways. This can be problematic, because many times at auditions and performances, Steinways are the only instruments provided. Making this transition can be difficult — students often struggle to find the right arm weight or finger weight because Steinways are so different from other pianos. So when a student prepares on a Steinway, this eases them into the concert hall experience and ultimately allows them to do their best when the curtain rises.

Monson has already seen three instances where students changed their minds and decided to attend Mason — after having decided to go elsewhere — once Mason announced it was on its way to reaching all-Steinway status.

Hwana Lee, a senior piano performance major who has studied under Monson, says she is thrilled about the new Steinways. “I am so honored to practice on a Steinway. I feel so grateful all the time. I’m really enjoying my music.”

A Personal Goal Sets the Stage

The Steinway initiative found its roots in piano lessons Dewberry has been taking with Monson for the past four-and-a-half years. Monson convinced him to buy a Steinway on which he could practice. But then he would come to the Mason practice studios for his piano lessons, where he would play on different pianos. So the two began a conversation about how nice it would be for Mason to become an all-Steinway school. That’s how it all began.

Dewberry, who is chairman of the professional services firm Dewberry, started his musical journey later in life, although the seed was planted much earlier. When he was in college in his early 20s, Dewberry had a professor who encouraged his students to write down a list of 25 things they wanted to accomplish during their lifetimes. At the end of his list, Dewberry wrote down that he wanted to learn to play the piano. He kept that list over the years and accomplished many things on it, but playing the piano wasn’t yet one of them. William Reeder, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, had heard about this list, so he introduced Dewberry and Monson.

“Linda is the one who really deserves the credit for this whole thing, not me,” says Dewberry. “She kept me encouraged, she kept me pumped up. She’s that type of person. If she hadn’t had that kind of enthusiastic personality, I would have stopped a long time ago.”

plaque for piano
The new Steinways bear a plaque listing the donors.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Mason students aren’t the only ones to benefit from the new Steinways. Many groups, including the Northern Virginia Music Teachers Association and American String Teachers Association, often use Mason practice rooms for music camps, seminars, festivals and competitions.

As Monson points out, this gift can help everyone in the community, musicians and listeners alike, experience and appreciate music in all of its dimensions.

“Music touches one deeply because it engages the intellect, and engages everything —physically, mentally. And the really unique thing, it engages the heart.”

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