“New” Steinway debuts with Tillema, Rachmaninoff
You could see it in the eyes of the music students gathered for Wednesday's Noon Concert: excitement! Each of the two dozen students wanted to see and hear UW-Parkside's newly acquired musical instrument--a vintage Steinway piano. The fact that it would be played by Music Professor Dr. James McKeever added to the anticipation.
Piano and pianist did not disappoint. From the opening notes of Ralph Tillema's "An English Dance" to the final chord of Rachmaninoff's Prelude in B-flat, the Frances Bedford Concert Hall rang with magnificent sound.
Donated by Music Department benefactor Peter Tillema, the piano was his father Ralph's prized instrument from the time it was selected at the Steinway factory in 1955 and signed by the company's president Henry Z. Steinway. Saying the '40s and '50s were the peak years of Steinway craftsmanship, in his program notes Dr. McKeever said, "Even with the wear of age, I could hear it was a fine instrument. Under the right hands, this piano can produce a lovely tone."
He added: "All things considered, Rachmaninoff was the only choice to play at [the piano's] first public performance!"
McKeever opened with Tillema's composition to honor the piano's original owner and followed with four Rachmaninoff selections.
Following the concert, UW-Parkside's John Jaraczewski accepted the piano on behalf of the university and Chancellor Debbie Ford who was unable to attend due to the weather. Jaraczewski asked that the music students join him on stage as a personal thank you to the Tillema family.
Peter Tillema, a regular at UW-Parkside midweek and evening performances, acquired the piano after the recent death of his brother who had kept it in good working order after Ralph Tillema's passing in 1985. Peter said he wanted the instrument played by people who would appreciate its quality and find joy in its sound.
As if to fulfill Tillema's hopes, after the concert, UW-Parkside student Alex Poyner sat down at the keyboard and played "Maple Leaf Rag" by Scott Joplin. Ralph Tillema's piano is in good hands.
Photo by Spencer Karczewski, Creative Services.