Piano policy raises conerns

Emily Passey

The Lawrence University keyboard department met last Monday to discuss a plan to place the Shattuck Hall grand piano practice rooms under lock and key, a change that was unanimously approved at the same meeting and will be implemented as soon as keys are made and distributed.
The decision was reported to the Dean’s Advisory Council, the conservatory’s student advisory panel, last Wednesday by conservatory secretary Ellen Mitala, raising questions and concerns with many nonpianist conservatory students.
“The department strongly feels that this is necessary to protect Lawrence’s grand pianos from unwarranted abuse, and to better monitor their usage by students, since the acquisition and maintenance of our pianos represents a considerable investment on the part of the university,” keyboard department chair Michael Kim stated.
He goes on to note that, “This is also standard policy at many other music schools.”
Piano professor Anthony Padilla, in his 10th year at Lawrence, notes, “It’s been leading up to this every year.”
The keyboard department has been at a loss for a definitive way to effectively prevent damage. With the concert grands in the large rehearsal spaces locked, their use can be monitored as students must check out the key to use a piano.
Although the change will hopefully address problems that pianists have, many nonpianist music majors are concerned that the locked piano rooms will further contribute to the chronic lack of practice room space experienced over the past several years.
Many of the problems addressed by the new locking policy were brought to the attention of the keyboard department by the efforts of sophomore pianist Nick Savage.
Savage began circulating a petition at the beginning of winter term. It was designed to be signed by all pianists and asked for the rooms to be locked.
Savage feels that he pursued his petition, which is “a symbolic motion,” mostly because the current rules regarding respect of the expensive instruments are simply not being followed completely.
DAC Secretary and Percussion Representative Reed Flygt relates that there were “a few grumbles” to be heard in the DAC when Mitala related the new regulation to them.
As Flygt understands it, the pianists’ main issue is with the regulation, which allows them to remove other musicians from the rooms. He believes that most nonpiano musicians feel the same way.
Although willing to follow regulations if implemented, trumpet player Adam Meckler takes issue with the idea of locking the rooms because of the possibility of general frustration if a few of the grand piano rooms are empty while all of the smaller rooms are full.
Savage understands these concerns, but he cites “unsettling” vandalism – not lack of space – as the major reason for his petition. Padilla also considers vandalism the major reason for the regulation.
Last year, pianos in the large rehearsal spaces in Shattuck Hall were damaged not only with broken strings, a common problem, but also broken hammers, something that is quite rare. This year those pianos have been locked.
Earlier this year, one of the Yamaha pianos was also quite badly broken, according to Savage.
Each time pianos are damaged, the keyboard department is made aware of it and the piano technicians must come in, a costly endeavor that means that the conservatory is often short on the budget for piano repair.
Padilla has also heard of and seen instrumentalists placing their cases on the pianos. He feels that instrumentalists often do not have the same kind of respect for the pianos as pianists have or as they have for their own instruments.
Savage is also concerned with what he calls the “abuses” of the regulations which allow pianists to ask nonpianists to leave a room. Savage himself had to call security once.
“It’s a very stressful issue,” Savage says.
Savage adds that there have been instances of nonpianists saying that they are waiting for accompanists – a situation which grants them the right to use the room – but being unable to name the pianist for whom they are waiting.
Padilla calls this behavior “questionable.”
“It seems to make sense that the people who are trained to play the instruments are the ones who should be using them,” Padilla states.
He points out that the percussion rooms are locked, as well as the organs, and are used only by those students who study those instruments.
Meckler makes a strong case for the nonpianist musicians. “I’m not going to go up to a nonmajor in one of the small practice rooms and kick them out just because I’m a major,” he notes.
He believes that there should still be “equal opportunity” to use the larger, more acoustically pleasing rooms.
Meckler notes that as a nonpianist, he understands the current rule of priority. “If they want to kick me out then I’m going to get out.”
Flygt feels that musicians need to be “more flexible” in their practice times. While he understands tight schedules, he notes that there are currently times when few students come to practice.
“Pianists are really sympathetic” to the general lack of practice space in the conservatory, Savage notes. He believes that it is vital for nonpianists to understand that “it’s not a personal thing.”
Padilla agrees that practice room availability is a problem, noting that before he came to Lawrence, student enrollment increased significantly and now, especially since the beginning of the fellows program, staffing has increased too.
There is an infrastructural problem which is not currently being dealt with, and which Padilla feels is often relegated to be last on the list of considerations.
One possible solution that Padilla puts forth would be to have a few extra keys to piano rooms in case someone needs to practice in them.
At UW-Madison, Padilla points out, there is a special piano room key office open all the time, something that the Lawrence Conservatory might have to think about in the near future.