Mumbai’s famed music institution, The Mehli Mehta Music Foundation, in association with Furtados, kicks off crowdfunder to gift Rs 68 lakh grand Steinway piano to its students; donors can sponsor individual keys for Rs 76,000 each
The innovative crowd-funding model, which has been occasionally implemented across other countries, is explained on the Steinway website and sometimes even borrowed by pianos of other makes. This time around, the fundraiser is a collaborative effort between MMMF and Furtados, which has the Model S, measuring 5 feet one inch, stored in their warehouse. Anthony Gomes, director of Furtados, says, “We hope that the ask from donors in the Western classical community is not perceived as a substantial one. This is not so much a purchase as much as an acquisition for the school; it has been an aspiration for the school, which has regrettably remained unfulfilled for long due to funding reasons,” he adds. Jeebhoy also says, “When we can spend lakhs on a motorcar, we can do the same for an educational tool of good quality. A Steinway piano is not a luxury.”
As a precedent, the 21-year-old non-profit Foundation has purchased the middle C while Furtados has donated the F, the store’s first letter.
Both Furtados and MMMF testify to the legendary stature of the handcrafted Steinway grand piano, which have been developed over 160 years. “Steinway has an artiste roster of about 1,600 top pianists [including Cole Porter and Billy Joel]. To become a Steinway artiste, there is only one precondition: an artiste must believe in the brand and therefore, own a Steinway piano. Unlike other brand endorsements, Steinway works differently. You must invest in a piano before you can endorse it,” he says.
Jeejeebhoy, an accomplished pianist, owns a Steinway that she has been playing on for the last 40 years. “It is a fine instrument and gives you many years of good service. I wouldn’t like to compare it with other brands, since not everyone can afford a Steinway,” she says.
The model S is made of carefully selected woods, one of which is Sitka spruce wood from Alaska for the soundboard. The wood selection and construction are such that the sound created by the piano should potentially reach the end of a concert hall without the use of a mic. The science behind the piano, says Jeejeebhoy, should allow students to learn the nuances of controlling the sound and the touch of the keys. Once the piano finds its 88 donors, it will have to be kept in temperate conditions with regulated humidity, tasks MMMF will look into in the future.
The school has currently enrolled 640 students, who start at the age of one-and-a-half and learn instruments around the age of 7 till they reach their late teens. MMMF also does an outreach music lessons for 884 students from low-income communities in BMC schools. “Students will not begin training on a Steinway; it is only in their later years that they will perfect their skills on it. While we help students from low income communities to learn on the violin and cello, it is difficult to train on a piano, since it requires you to have an instrument at home,” says Jeejeebhoy. The Model S will be an addition to the school’s existing seven pianos (among which are two Bostons, also Steinway makes), on which both students learn and teachers practice.
The fundraiser was announced last night at The Singing Tree choral concert of over 180 students from the MMMF, held at the National Centre Performing Arts.
The acquisition of this Steinway is the first step for MMMF to become an All-Steinway School in the coming years, a position held by reputed schools such as the Royal College of Music, London. However, the Steinway association is not without its share of criticism, right from its demand for exclusivity and the “monoculture” of sound it has bred. The pianist Garrick Ohlsson, for instance, was banned in the 1970s from using Steinway after he praised Bösendorfer, another piano manufacturer, in public. Furthermore, will there be those who question the need for a Steinway — the Rolls Royce among pianos — in a music school?
But, both MMMF and Furtados are unfazed by these instances. “This is a chance to create awareness about Western classical music through our junior conservatory. We want our students, whether they are learning or playing it at a concert, to know that they are using a special instrument,” says Jeejeebhoy.
By Benita Fernando | Sunday Mid-Day, 04-Sep-2016