Piano project

Students First Fund grant helps Theatre Program purchase a new piano

Melissa Yanchak, staff musical director in the Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures, played the Theatre Program’s new Yamaha piano while working remotely with Alexis Weihe, a sophomore musical theatre major.

Thanks to a Students First Fund grant from the Wright State University Foundation, the Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures has a new Yamaha piano to enhance the teaching and learning experience for faculty and students.

Two years ago, the department launched “The Piano Project” with the goal of refurbishing or replacing its entire fleet of pianos. The pianos provide accompaniment to around 200 students each year in classes, private singing lessons, rehearsals and performances.

“They are among the most used pieces of educational equipment that we have,” said Joe Deer, artistic director and chair of the Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures. “We use these pianos a lot, but we have never had a sustained or targeted initiative to upgrade that whole fleet of pianos. It was time.”

Deer said the Students First Fund grant played an instrumental role in the department’s endeavor to refurbish, replace or retire existing pianos in the fleet.

“Without the Students First Fund, I am confident that we never would have gotten the traction that we needed,” said Deer. “The grant served as a seed to encourage other people to contribute, and it gave us the leverage we needed to begin meaningfully changing the quality of the piano and musical experience that our students are having on a daily basis.”

After utilizing the $6,000 Students First Fund grant — which was awarded in spring 2020 — to purchase the new Yamaha piano, Deer leveraged an additional $6,000 in donor contributions and student fees to refurbish six pianos.

During a refurbishment, the entire keyboard mechanism in the piano is pulled out to be inspected and repaired. The hammers are also replaced, the key action is cleaned and lubricated, and new felt is installed.

Due to COVID-19 safety protocol, vocal coaching has to be done remotely via Zoom.

“It’s like getting a 70,000-mile tune up done on the piano,” Deer said. “Some of them ultimately need to be retired. They have been beaten to death for more than 30 years.”

Deer hopes to refurbish three additional pianos over the course of the next year.

Anyone wanting to support “The Piano Project” may contribute to the Theatre Arts Program Fund at wright.edu/give/tdmp or by contacting Joe Deer at joe.deer@wright.edu.

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