The University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music has teamed with Circle Music Center to bring pianos directly to the homes of more than a dozen students who are currently homebound due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As of Tuesday, 13 UofM students have been delivered pianos on indefinite loan from Circle Music Center as part of a plan devised by Dr. Artina McCain, coordinator of piano studies; Dr. Jonathan Tsay, piano studies professor; and Dr. Kevin Sanders, Director of the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music at the University of Memphis.
“Last week, I was speaking with Kevin Sanders about how we could best serve our students during this time, since they wouldn’t have the usual level of access to the building and instruments,” McCain said. “For many students, purchasing these instruments on their own absolutely wasn’t an option. So I reached out to Circle Music Center to get an idea of their inventory and then Jonathan Tsay and I began to work on dispersing them to our students. Circle Music jumped into action very fast. The idea came up one day and deliveries started the next.”
Chuck Taylor, General Manager with Circle Music Center in East Memphis, is credited for organizing the delivery efforts and expediting loan process to get a variety of pianos to the homes of local students, a value worth tens of thousands of dollars.
“Artina McCain and Jonathan Tsay, under the new leadership of Kevin Sanders, approached us and asked if we could help out with students who might be quarantined or choosing to stay at home,” said Taylor. “So we got right into striking a deal that would allow them to keep with their studies as they transition to online coursework.”
Taylor, a musician himself, understands the unique challenges presented by the unique nature of the instrument.
“The piano is really the only instrument that is so dependent on certain spaces like a music hall, practice room or home setup,” said Taylor. “And we’re talking about students — many from out of town, probably living in apartments and student housing — they don’t have the resources to be able to bring their piano from home. Most musicians at that level need to practice hours and hours a day, it’s their life, their aspirations, their future.”
Lucas Scott Smith, undergraduate piano performance major, was among the first to receive a piano in the form of a Yamaha upright that was delivered Friday afternoon.
“It’s very nice, with a beautiful sound,” said Smith. “This piano is definitely going to help me practice way more, especially since it’s right here in front of me.”
Smith is currently taking private lessons with Tsay, in addition to theory classes and a chamber course.
“I started by asking all of my students what their living situations were like,” said Tsay. “We had to make sure their residences were ground-level with walls that were somewhat isolated for some of the larger pianos. While we’re being considerate to our students, we’re also trying to be considerate to the rest of the neighborhood, as well.”
Angelica Rendek, a first-year DMA student who also offers private lessons, will be able to continue to teach her classes effectively online with the help of the Yamaha Hybrid that Circle Music Center delivered to her home.
“I’m just really happy that this isn’t yet another thing that I have to worry about in this very daunting situation,” said Rendek. “The last thing I want to be worried about right now is how I’m going to create my art. This is just a great opportunity that The University has provided, to allow us to do something that brings some sense of normalcy in our lives and to do it in such a ridiculously effective way when speaking to the quality of the instruments.”
Natalia Vanegas, an international student from Colombia, sees as musical therapy and a source of stress relief during uncertain times.
“We’re out of classes — which is bad — but at least we are still able to practice, which I was very concerned about,” said Vanegas. “Everything is worse without a piano, but having one here helps me feel much less anxious about this whole situation we’re in.”
Lance Jackson, a freshman from Dallas, Texas, who has remained on campus throughout the coronavirus outbreak, was delivered a Yamaha Clavinova.
“I’m an RA, so I have to stay here on campus,” said Lance. “The whole music building is closed, so I really needed this as a way to practice. I thought I was going to have to get my huge piano shipped from home somehow.”
Jackson is currently practicing his craft in the near-empty Centennial Place student residence hall.
“This is a one-of-a-kind thing for our residence spaces, even though I actually think I’m the only one currently staying on my floor,” said Jackson. “I’ve started working on expanding my repertoire and I think Dr. McCain will be very happy when she gets to hear how I’ve progressed.”
Students will keep the pianos for the remainder of the semester and The University is covering things on a month-to-month rental basis, according to McCain.
“We’re super excited that Kevin Sanders supported this great idea that was helpful to so many students. And who knows, maybe this practice could be a longrun solution for some students as we return to campus later in the year,” she said.
— Eric Stoller (@EricStoller) March 22, 2020