‘Labors of Love’
Jordan Hillman '13 positions his fingers above the piano keys with a keen sense of anticipation. He has performed for most of his life, but says he still gets nervous right before playing for an audience.
"I want the music the audience hears to be as rich and beautiful as the music in my head," Hillman said. "Once I'm ready, I pause for a moment and try to clear my head. Then I touch the keys and lose myself in the music."
Hillman's dedication and passion are characteristic of Connecticut College students who deeply value the opportunities they have to develop their many talents, said Margaret Thomas, associate professor of music and chair of the music department. It's a commitment expressed in every note played on campus, she added.
That commitment struck a chord with Nancy Marshall Athey '72 and husband Preston Athey who recently made a commitment of their own: An $855,000 gift that will elevate Connecticut College to distinction as an "All-Steinway School" by infusing the College's comprehensive music education program with these top quality pianos.
"Music plays a big role in our life together, and we want to share this love of music with the students and faculty of Connecticut College," said Nancy Athey. "I was a history major, but music was always an important part of my college experience. For me, the 'All-Steinway' project will do more than enhance musical performances for all of the performing arts; it will also ensure the quality of music education now and make the school even more attractive to gifted musicians in the future."
The Athey's generous gift will support a five-year plan to purchase 16 new Steinway pianos, including two magnificent concert grand pianos for Evans Hall and Palmer Auditorium; 11 grand pianos for Harkness Chapel, Fortune Hall, Oliva Hall and practice and teaching spaces in Cummings Arts Center; and three upright pianos for smaller practice rooms in Cummings. The gift also supports renovation of the college's 14 other pianos and lays the groundwork for the broader college community to support the necessary ongoing care and maintenance needed to retain the All-Steinway designation.
Quality instruments are fundamental to music and music education. The Athey's gift will extend students' and professors' ability to perform, practice and teach. It's an investment in the future of music at Connecticut College that perfectly complements the College's long-standing tradition of music pedagogy.
"The key to music education in the liberal arts environment is that our students - whether they are music majors or majors in any other discipline - all want music to be an ongoing part of their lives," said John Anthony, professor of music and College organist. "Music is a life-long undertaking and a life-long gift. And that, truly, is the glory of music."
For students like Hillman, a music major with a concentration in composition, piano quality is everything. "I love the clear, singing tone of these instruments, and the way the keys respond to the slightest change in touch," he said. "When I play on the College's best Steinways, I sit down for hours on end and become fully absorbed in what I'm doing."
The first new Steinways will arrive on campus in the fall, and the College is planning an event to mark the "All-Steinway School" distinction.