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Wanda L. Bass
School of Music

2501 N. Blackwelder
Oklahoma City, OK 73106

Keyboard Study

MUSIC TO THEIR EARS
BY BRIAN BRUS
THE JOURNALRECORD

OKLAHOMA CITY – Pianos are being integrated with iPods as the Oklahoma City University music school begins its fall semester.

The Apple technology is yet another development growing out of Wanda L. Bass’ donation of more than $2 million worth of Steinway pianos four years ago, said Mark Parker, dean of the OCU School of Music. “It just kept reaching out like an octopus and touching additional, unforeseen resources,” he said, pointing to one of the latest enhancements, a $1 million gift for an Apple-based “robust computer infrastructure” that would help students make the most of their piano training.

The school’s size more than doubled when the Wanda L. Bass Music Center opened this year. The $38.5 million, 113,000-square-foot addition features about 60 soundproof practice rooms and 40 teaching studios, plus several music labs and ensemble rehearsal rooms. At the time of Bass’ gift, Steinway & Sons company spokesman Michael A. Robinson said the purchase of 105 pianos “not only ranks as the largest donation of Steinways, but will vault OCU to the top ranks of music schools in the U.S. It also means OCU will be one of the nation’s largest all-Steinway schools, itself an elite category of music schools and conservatories.”

Since then, the school hasn’t had to make a concerted effort to advertise the pianos, Parker said. News media coverage has gener- ated enough interest to reach potential students and professionals in the music industry, as well as lead to other donations for music- related projects.

“Because it was the largest purchase in Steinway’s history, the press jumped on the story at that time and it got a lot of play worldwide. It was a bigger deal outside the state than it seemed to be in Oklahoma. It got a lot of talk in New York, for example,” Parker said. “We had prospective students and their parents driving in from Minnesota unannounced because they had heard about the pianos and wanted to see the school even before they were purchased.”

The result has been a “huge difference” in student enrollment auditions, he said. In the past two years, the number of auditioning students increased about 36 percent. Ten years ago the school saw less than 200 students try to get in; last year the number was 515. The school has room for 130.

“Students know that if you’ve got that kind of quality of equipment in their major, it’s a really big deal, so it definitely attracts people,” Parker said. “It’s been a huge difference. At a lot of music schools, even a few great schools that I attended, maintaining pianos is extremely difficult. If you buy a $4,500 upright piano for a practice room and it’s played seven days a week for five to eight hours, it doesn’t hold up. These are $20,000 Steinway pianos ... and they’re built to last 50 to 100 years.”

Just keeping the pianos in good condition is a major investment in its own right. The school has contracted with a professional tuner and his staff of three to keep the equipment ready. Over the past month, in preparation for the new semester, more than 80 pianos have been moved into the building. Each instrument has to be tuned at least twice.

Bass included in her original gift about $400,000 to be set aside for repairs and upkeep. When the school sold its non- Steinway piano stock, proceeds from the sale further bolstered the repair endowment. This season the school became an Apple Digital Campus. Each faculty member received a laptop computer, a 60-gigabite video iPod, a video camera for the computer, and – the most important part, Parker said – “lots and lots of computer training.”

“The faculty is learning a new way to teach music with 21st century technology. ... We were pretty much in the Dark Ages at the music school as far as what was going on with technology,” Parker said. “This is a huge leap.” Students have been asked to buy computer equipment and iPods to integrate. He expects about two-thirds of incoming students will be equipped to make the most of the new multimedia systems. With a laptop computer with a built-in camera, a student can record her lessons for a teacher to review later – correcting piano hand technique, for instance.

And the iPods? Music students usually end up with plenty of listening assignments for class assignments.

“With this technology, you can take that music with you and listen to it anywhere, 24/7, instead of going to a place to listen to it like I had to do as a student,” Parker said. The school’s collection of CDs is being put on a computer server for student access. “The people who come to visit, even before everything has been set up, tell us there’s nothing like it anywhere else,” Parker said. “Our goal has been to make something really, really great. We didn’t know whether it would all come out that way. But everybody is confirming that we made the goal of building a music teaching facility like no other.”

He added, “We would like to market it, but we don’t have the marketing money.

Fortunately, it’s worked out for us largely by word of mouth.”




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