Thu September 5, 2013
Arts District

Doubling Down On Ebony and Ivory

For a concert hall to have even one Steinway Grand Piano is a boon. But to have two? That’s something else. For the past 25 years, Greeley’s Union Colony Civic Center has been one of those lucky places with two of the prized instruments.

Both Steinways have been recently refurbished to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the UCCC.

A quarter century ago it was pianist Phyllis Eaton’s ears and fingers, along with former University of Northern Colorado artist-in-residence Daniel Graham, who helped select the ebony-and-ivory duo, which were gifted to the venue.

“It was such a thrill to go to the Steinway factory and not only play these instruments in their showroom, as Dan and I did, but they gave us a tour of the facility,” said the soft-spoken Eaton.

The UCCC's Steinway Grand Pianos were the result of two separate gifts 25 years ago.
The UCCC's Steinway Grand Pianos were the result of two separate gifts 25 years ago.
Credit Carrie Saldo

The process that yields a Steinway is largely handcrafted. There’s 12,116 parts in all, and the result is a unique a “personality” for each instrument, Eaton added.

Eaton's sister, Maggie Peterson Mancuso, sang at a community celebration to mark the UCCC’s opening in 1988. She was accompanied by one of those Steinways and her brothers’ band.

"It was exciting," Mancuso stated ebulliently. "We were used to the armory or gymnasiums so this was really exciting to have this big beautiful hall."

Mancuso is an actress and singer. Under her maiden name Peterson, she became known for her role as Charlene Darling on the Andy Griffith show.

The Steinways on the UCCC stage, like the two sisters, are a study in contrast. Restoring them required shipping the massive instruments to New York City for new pin blocks and strings, as well as repairing keys and small dings on the body. After that, the instruments awaited their “final voicing.”

“They make fine-tuning adjustments when they are actually in the theater, they can hear them in the place that they’ll be played and make final adjustments,” said UCCC Technical Services Coordinator Jason Evenson.

One piano will be voiced to support the work of piano soloists like Eaton, a member of the Greeley Philharmonic. The result is a more reserved sound quality. The other piano will have an adjustment that yields a more boisterous sound, maybe readying it for the hands of a jazz musician.

What’s the benefit of having two Steinways under one roof? You can hear it in this rendition of “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, performed by Lei Weng on one of the Steinway grand’s at the UCCC.

According to Steinway, 97 percent of all concert piano soloists who performed in 2011-2012 chose to play on a Steinway. Over the past quarter century at the UCCC, the two Steinways have helped to attract top musical talent to the 1,700 seat Monfort Concert Hall including, John Musto, Jim Brickman, and Doc Severinsen.

But why a Steinway? Think of it this way – Pinto versus Rolls Royce. Both cars will get you to your destination but a ride in the later would be something to Tweet about.

“You can’t go wrong with a Steinway,” says Phyllis Eaton.

Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, Rocky Mountain PBS, and KUVO.

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