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  • 1.  University music schools and piano replacement programs

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-03-2021 20:09
    Hello All!

    I have been asked by the director of the School of Music at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, to research how other universities fund their piano fleet. Here at UBC we have an old and worn out fleet of about 100 pianos. We get no annual funding from the university at all for pianos and are expected to rely on donations and fund raising. This seems wrong to me as pianos are a core need of the school (like computers in science programs) and I feel the university should fund them. If 5% of the the fleet were replaced every year we would have the pianos on a 20 year replacement plan, which I think is about right. If the fleet has a retail replacement value of, say, $5,000,000 then the annual cost of the plan would be $250,000. Are there any schools which work on anything like this sort of plan?
    In general, I am interested in what major schools in the US and Canada do to manage their piano fleets. Any information as to how the schools you work in deal with this is much appreciated.

    Thank you!

    Scott Harker

    Scott Harker
    Vancouver BC

  • 2.  RE: University music schools and piano replacement programs

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-03-2021 21:26
    My university, the University of New Mexico, instituted a course fee 20 years ago after the central university administration declined to fund a piano replacement program. It is based on credit hours for all music department classes, and was originally $5/hr, since raised to about $10/hr after budget considerations required that the salary for piano technician be taken out of that funding source.

    This was sufficient for us to achieve an average 35 year replacement cycle (faster than that for uprights, slower for grands). The fund also is used for major rebuilding, which effectively prolongs the useful life of grands in particular. The leverage used by the department chair to obtain permission to institute the fee was a deficiency identified during an accreditation process. This deficiency was self-identified, and then ratified by the accrediting team.

    I believe there are at least a couple other schools with a similar system, possibly more. I think it has a lot to recommend it, particularly as it is unaffected by the vagaries of the central budgeting processes. It is only affected by enrollment, which may vary significantly from year to year but should be fairly steady long term. 

    Fred Sturm
    "Since everything is in our heads, we had better not lose them." Coco Chanel

  • 3.  RE: University music schools and piano replacement programs

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-03-2021 22:07
    Scott was kind enough to email me personally and although he did not share my response I will do it here:

    So nice to hear from you.  
    First off I am so glad that you are thinking along the lines of replacement.  The 20 year plan seems about right based upon other institutions' work.
    Second let's move this discussion to the CAUT forum on the website.  I would encourage you to visit there and there are many resources.  
    Your above open a whole can of worms.    We were having a discussion about the purchase of a new Yamaha Disklavier just after the U of O announced that we were to curtail non "mission critical" purchases.  I like that term a lot as it speaks to the importance of the equipment basic to the School of Music and Dance just like your computer example above.  
    As for funding I have seen many different examples to success:
    1.  The University Loan programs available through a number of different manufacturers
    2.  Steinway and others have 5-7 year lease to purchase programs (or used to)
    3.  Donors can only do so much and in many cases would like to have a brass plaque installed on the piano--difficult to sell in a practice room but easier on the high ticket items like performance pianos
    4.  General donation as a music department wide project--Was part of one of these at Luther College.  They had raised about $500K to work with.  We were able to improve about half of the inventory with those funds.  We left a few behind but overall a substantial improvement.  The way this worked was because of one man principally.  His name was Weston Noble and he was the Luther College Choir director for over 50 years.  Such a nice man and no one could say no.  When he was on the phone with you money would move!!!!
    5.  As you are suggesting above a more incremental approach can be successful.  Administration likes the forward looking approach so that items like pianos and such can be part of a large picture budget with adequate funding sought.  Overall inventory for us is about $6.5 M.  Other schools might be a bit more or a bit less.  
    6.  Make sure you are great friends with the development (fund raising) folks.  You can let them know of the needs and very often they can search out suitable donors.  We have one who donates to a Piano Repair/Rebuilding Fund.  Others have contributed since it holds a title on the list and it now holds quite a lot of cash.  We have been able to rebuild three pianos with that money saving a bundle vs. new instruments.  The sales staffs hate this but it's the university's funds.  
    7.  Make sure they have a copy of the Guidelines For Institutional Maintenance available from the home office.  It's a great resource and with it held in your own hand you can arrive at a formula for service/replacements
    8.  Generate a spreadsheet list of the instruments, their age, condition, donor source if there is one etc.  This is a huge help in obtaining instruments as places instruments in an obvious way on the list.  You can also manipulate the list to emphasize certain aspects.  The two I use the most are age and condition.  Average age of the instruments here is about 34 years.  Other places will have a much older average and some less.  
    9.  Ain't gonna happen without the support of the faculty, especially the piano faculty
    While I can't comment on the various ways that universities fund their programs, I think we can comment on the responsibility of UBC to its students to give them the best tools they can.  
    Would you like to move this to the CAUT site or would you like me to introduce this to the group.  There will be many great responses.
    Mike Reiter
    Piano Technician
    University of Oregon School of Music and Dance
    College and University Technicians Committee Chair

    A further comment on the above regarding Luther College.  Just before my arrival they had started the "Piano Improvement Fund".  Thinking they could have come up with a glitzier name but it in fact worked quite well.  The impetus for the project, however, is WHY it was started in the first place.  They had received an unfavorable accreditation report.  That's great fodder to get things rolling for sure!!!  Upon my arrival they had already sent one of the concert instruments to Patrick DeBelso (great job BTW) and had added a dozen new practice rooms in the dorms using Wenger modular studios.  They had purchased Yamaha Studios and three Hailuns.  They all worked out great.  With the remaining funds in hand we were able to purchase/rebuild instruments and not have to go through purchasing or committees.  It's one of the advantages of a private/non-state institution.

    We felt we were quite smart about the distribution of the funds and were able to purchase good condition used instruments locally.  At the time there were a number of them online.  We found a Steinway L in a high-rise Chicago apt on Marine Dr because the owner had purchased the piano several years earlier for their 8 year old and he lost interest after a couple of years.  The piano was like new at about 1/3 the price of new.  'Twas a great deal for the school.  Would like to have seen the dining room set she was wishing to buy with the proceeds!!!!  OOOLALA!!

    With those funds we rebuilt over 10 pianos including SBs, purchased the 12 uprights, replaced 15-20 actions, refinished several, replaced two keyboards and purchased a new M&H A for a practice room.  We moved about half of the inventory around in the building as we did the work.  That's about 60 pianos out of the 120.

    Mike R

    Michael Reiter
    Eugene OR

  • 4.  RE: University music schools and piano replacement programs

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-05-2021 11:12
    Hi, Mike,

    I've always wondered why conferences don't buy in quantity. Let's say the Pac-12 agrees to buy 12 Steinway concert grands. Wouldn't they get some sort of discount and each school would get a new concert instrument? Doesn't BYU benefit from a buying agreement between Yamaha and the church which buys pianos in quantity globally? There might be other ways to cooperate. Have you talked to other piano techs in your conference about helping each other out? Maybe replacement parts-hammers for example. What would happen if the Pac-12 ordered 5 sets of grand action replacement parts for every school in the conference? 

    Richard West

  • 5.  RE: University music schools and piano replacement programs

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-05-2021 12:18

    Richard,  This makes big sense!  The SEC probably has many schools of music with needing replacement pianos yesterday!


    Why not become a big box store between schools and manufacturers to get more affordable pianos? Works for me if it is doable. It would take a lot of negotiations and deal making.


    I'm not sure how to share your thought to our Dean.  Can you send your thoughts to me





  • 6.  RE: University music schools and piano replacement programs

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-03-2021 22:04

    One idea is to have the chair of the music department contact some of the manufacturers and ask for the institutional sales reps. They are well versed in helping music departments raise funds for new pianos.