Newswise — Spelman College is only the third college in Georgia, and the first historically Black college or university, to join a prestigious group of institutions designated as All-Steinway Schools.
To celebrate this special designation, the Spelman department of music and Steinway Piano Galleries of Atlanta will present Leon Bates in concert, Wednesday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Sisters Chapel.
All-Steinway Schools are institutions that have made an agreement with Steinway & Sons, the oldest piano company in America, that 90 percent or more of the school's collection of pianos will be Steinways. Spelman joins such distinguished institutions as The Julliard School, Yale School of Music, and the Carnegie-Mellon University School of Music.
"The fact that we are an All-Steinway School separates us from many institutions when it comes to our commitment to excellence in providing the best for our students," said Kevin Johnson, D.MA., chair of the music department and associate professor. "This concert is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate and highlight Spelman's music department and this accomplishment."
Leon Bates, who is a Steinway artist, has performed in major concert halls in the United States and on five other continents. He was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Negro Musicians in 2007 for his musicianship and work with young people.
"Music students as well as other attendees will get a spectacular concert with one of the foremost African American artists in the world," said Dr. Johnson. Bates will also conduct a master class where he will listen to students play and give them pointers on how to improve. "This event and celebration are really motivational for our students because they feel they are part of something important."
For decades Steinway & Sons has cultivated special relationships with pianists like Bates, to perform exclusively on Steinway pianos. Spanning every musical genre, some Steinway artists include the legendary Duke Ellington, pop icon Billy Joel and jazz great Ramsey Lewis. Today there are nearly 1,400 musicians who bear the title, "Steinway Artist."
According to Joyce Finch Johnson, D.Mus., professor emerita and College organist, Bates has performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra several times and has given many concerts and piano master classes in Atlanta colleges, including Spelman College. Former chair of the music department, Dr. Joyce Johnson recalls a morning convocation several years ago when Bates gave a recital for the students. "Young and handsome, he strolled on the stage in a casual, all-white, Bohemian-style suit, [and] the girls went wild," chuckled Joyce Johnson. "The concert was phenomenal."
As one of only a few African American classical concert pianist elected to the international roster of Steinway artists, Dr Joyce Johnson, who began working at Spelman in 1953 points out the significance of becoming an All-Steinway School. "Every Steinway has its own unique tonal quality that allows even the untrained listener the ability to appreciate the beauty of tone," she said.
However, the benefits to learning and performing on a Steinway extend beyond a pleasing sound for the listener. "Becoming an All-Steinway School brings prestige to the institution and can attract the best and brightest piano students. It also ensures that students will always be studying, practicing, and performing on superior instruments," said Dr. Joyce Johnson.
While the school owned a few Steinways as early as the 1960s, becoming an All-Steinway School was a process that has taken several decades to complete. "This is a momentous event for Spelman, and it could not have been done without the hard work and dedication of many former presidents and department chairs," said Dr. Joyce Johnson. "We are more than happy, more than proud, for such a designation and affiliation."