Oberlin Forges Piano Technology Partnership with Shanghai Conservatory

Union calls for faculty residencies, student exchanges, advanced-level Oberlin degree, and more.

June 18, 2018

Erich Burnett

Teacher and students gathered around a Steinway piano in a repair shop.
John Cavanaugh (standing, center) works with Oberlin piano technology students in the conservatory's newly remodeled piano shop.
Photo credit: Julie Gulenko '15

Two years after the Shanghai National Conservatory of Music was founded in 1927, a young composer named Huang Tzu became its director of academic affairs and a lecturer in music theory and composition. A 1926 graduate of Oberlin, Huang played an integral role in introducing the Western traditions he experienced at Oberlin to the teaching of music in China.

Almost 90 years later, Oberlin and Shanghai have rekindled a relationship that once again draws upon Oberlin expertise.

In May 2018, Dean of the Conservatory Andrea Kalyn, Executive Director of Piano Technology John Cavanaugh, and International Outreach Coordinator Kai Fu ’06 met with officials from the Shanghai Conservatory to formalize a new partnership that will lead to the formation of a piano technology teaching program at Shanghai as well as plans for a new graduate-level degree in piano technology that will involve study at both institutions.

In the coming years, Oberlin’s partnership with Shanghai will also promote student and faculty exchanges that could involve departments throughout both conservatories. Beginning in fall 2018, faculty from Shanghai will participate in a residency at Oberlin in which they will perform on traditional Chinese instruments and work with Oberlin ethnomusicology students and faculty.

“The partnership between Oberlin and the Shanghai Conservatory reflects our mutual commitment to musical excellence and shared appreciation of the power of music to bring people together across difference,” Kalyn says. “We look forward to building on the 90-year connection between our two institutions in ways that advance our students’ professional preparation and deepen their understanding across cultures
and genres.”

Since its inception in 2014, Oberlin’s piano tech program has emerged as a world leader in the training of advanced technicians. In the coming years, Cavanaugh will oversee the creation of Shanghai’s state-of-the-art piano tech shop, while the first students in the nascent program will begin their training at Oberlin. The new pact with Shanghai will consist of three years of study—two of them in Oberlin—toward a master’s degree in piano technology conferred by the Shanghai Conservatory.

Piano Tech Milestones

The partnership also represents the latest in a series of growth spurts for Oberlin’s piano technology department, which since 2014 has offered an exclusive artist diploma program for the training of advanced technicians.

For the first time, the two-year program will offer enhanced opportunities for second-year students to receive off-site training at Steinway’s New York factory. It begins with a week of intensive, hands-on instruction at Steinway, followed by a return trip in which each student will be tasked with preparing two grand pianos for selection in one week; each student’s performance will be graded by Steinway’s technical department.

Oberlin holds the distinction of being the world’s only Steinway-authorized training facility apart from the manufacturer’s own Hamburg and New York City factories. Oberlin owns more than 240 Steinway grand pianos and was the first institution to be named an “All-Steinway School,” a designation conferred in 1877.

“Oberlin and Steinway share a remarkable history of more than 140 years,” says Cavanaugh. “There could be no more fitting capstone to this program than for our second-year students to apply their skills and be evaluated at the very heart of the Steinway company. We are deeply honored to join Steinway in creating this opportunity for our students.”

Back on campus, this summer marks the 15th anniversary of the Steinway at Oberlin seminar, part of the C.F. Theodore Steinway Technical Academy. The program focuses on strategies for institutional piano technicians and welcomes more than a dozen technicians from around the world each July. This year’s seminar will feature the debut of Oberlin’s newly expanded and renovated piano technology shop, which is equipped to handle four full piano restorations concurrently.

Also new for 2018: the first piano technology summer intensive for Chinese students. The week-long program is intended for students currently pursuing bachelor’s degrees in piano technology elsewhere who may want to continue their studies at Oberlin. Classes are taught by Oberlin technicians and translated into Chinese by current students in the artist diploma program. To learn more about piano technology at Oberlin, visit oberlin.edu/piano-technology.

This story originally appeared in the 2018 Oberlin Conservatory Magazine.

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