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Music department to purchase 27 new pianos with anonymous gift

Students perform for the music department's 50th anniversary concert Sunday afternoon. Jordan Emont/Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet Staff Writer Priya Anand and Komal Thakkar.

The music department celebrated its 50th anniversary on Sunday with orchestras, song and the announcement of the largest donation in the department’s history.

Department chair Karen Ahlquist announced during the concert that an anonymous gift would allow for the purchase of 27 new Steinway pianos. Ahlquist declined to share the amount of the gift but Steinway pianos start at around $30,000 with many passing the $100,000 range.

This donation, as part of an initiative to designate the University as an all-Steinway school, puts GW in the company of The Julliard School and the Yale School of Music.

The department was created in the fall of 1960 by George Steiner and focused for 20 years on traditional, conservatory style program with a focus on classical music, Ahlquist said. Since the 1980s, the department has developed more contemporary programs and today, students can study a range of classical styles to pop music and jazz.

“George Steiner created something that did not exist. Starting a department was a big deal, and getting recognition has been a big achievement,” Ahlquist said. “Everybody’s got a connection with music. We’re interested in forging more connections.”

Performance is a large component of the curriculum and one of the department’s strengths, Ahlquist said.

“We are really interested in integrating classroom teaching with performance teaching. It’s difficult, but it challenges the students to think critically and independently when they perform,” Ahlquist said.  “I also want to include a wider range of music since we have the world in this city.”

When asked where the program would be in 50 years, professor Douglas Boyce, the incoming department chair, said he wants the department to grow within the University.

“We are working to develop partnerships with faculty in other departments. We’re looking for those points where we can cross over into other departments, so as to take a broader approach to music,” Boyce said.

Alumna Julie Mangis, one of the music program’s first students, said the program has grown leaps and bounds since her days as a student.

“Class was held on Friday nights from six to nine because there was no space,” Mangis said. “In order for professor Steiner to teach a class, he had to teach at night. He was really the music department, and here we are 50 years later.”

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