BEAVER, W.Va. (AP) — School of Harmony founder Charles Lee Hicks wants students in southern West Virginia to have the same musical opportunities as students at Yale School of Music and Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
The school is on its way to becoming an All-Steinway School of Distinction, one of only 30 in the world.
Last week, Patricia Neeper of the Steinway Gallery of Pittsburgh praised the School of Harmony for its commitment to the arts and students and said their application for the Steinway distinction has been approved.
"I have never felt so welcomed, in any institution in my over 30 years of representing Steinway and Sons, than I have from the moment I walked in the door of the School of Harmony," said Neeper, whose mother is a West Virginia native.
Founded in Manhattan by German immigrant Henry Engelhard Steinway in 1853, the company was the developer of the modern piano, according to Neeper.
Neeper had first visited the school at Womack's request in July to see if the center could qualify as a Steinway school.
"When I was driving home, after being so amazed at this diamond of a school, I thought it's pretty much what Henry Engelhard Steinway had in mind when he started Steinway and Sons," said Neeper. "His mission was to build pianos that would allow pianists to fulfill their art.
"So the similarities here touched me and touched my heart," she added. "I said, 'Here is a program that should be recognized as one of the finest community art schools in the world.'"
She expressed admiration for Harmony's "Music Mobile" program that buses music lessons to tuition students in rural places — much like the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. (Neeper has worked with artist Yoko Ono, Lennon's widow, on arts education programs, but Hicks was unaware of the John Lennon tour bus when Harmony staff began its own musical bus.)
On Sept. 27, Hicks announced, the school will kick-off a campaign to raise $750,000 to purchase brand new Steinway grand pianos for all piano teaching studios and performance areas, in addition to buying new Steinway upright pianos for all other instrumental and vocal teaching areas.
Steinway pianos are found in virtually every college and university where music programs are offered, Hicks said.
"One of my goals as director of the School of Harmony is to look for ways to improve the quality of our musical instruction, and to have high-quality musical instruction, you have to have the highest-quality instruments possible," Womack said.
Steinway pianos are the official choice of major orchestras and music festivals, including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and the Boston Symphony, said Womack.
Becoming an All-Steinway School opens the pathway for many activities and connections in the worldwide community of music, he added.
Neeper explained that Steinway and Sons has a 160-year history of building pianos that are used by world-class pianists worldwide, and West Virginia walnut wood is used to craft Steinway pianos.
Lewisburg resident Barbara Nissman is a Steinway artist, joining the ranks of Lang Lang, Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, Billy Joel and Harry Connick, Jr.
The West Virginia connection doesn't end there, as Neeper said Beckley Area Foundation Director Susan Landis told her recently.
Landis told Neeper that a former Beckleyan works in the world-famous Steinway New York Concert and Artist Department, and Neeper discovered that the director of international sales is an alum of Marshall University.
"We certainly have ties to this wonderful state," said Neeper. "And we have a mission for the School of Harmony to bring excellence here to the school and community as a whole."
The school plans Steinway pianos for its primary teaching areas and Steinway grand pianos for the performance areas.
"We will also have a Steinway-certified technician — not just anyone can tune these pianos," explained Womack.
Donors, depending on the size of qualifying donations, may have anything from a plaque designating their part in securing a piano, a classroom honoring their name for donation of an entire piano, or the program as a whole permanently named in honor of them or an intended music patron.
The school invites businesses and individuals with a passion for continuing music education to participate in their program. Donations to the 501(c)3-designated organization are tax-deductible.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sent a letter congratulating Harmony staff.
"The faculty, staff and students of the School of Harmony have truly made Raleigh County and our entire state proud," Manchin wrote. "I wish you all the best of luck for what is sure to be a bright future."
The official campaign to raise $750,000 for purchase and maintenance of the Steinway pianos will begin on Sept. 27.
For more information on the School of Harmony All-Steinway School of Distinction drive, contact Womack at 304-253-3095.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com