Students have complained that the Marvin Center piano is a nuisance to others. Even as a music major who loves playing and listening to music, I too find it annoying to listen to someone practice. But I also understand why some students opt to practice on that piano – it is one of the best pianos available on campus.
Most pianos are located in the basement of Philips Hall, along with other musical instruments. But in my experience, they are out-of-tune, upright pianos with broken pedals. The quality of the pianos are insufficient for students who want to practice – they cannot be expected to learn or improve if their instrument is not up to par with their playing abilities. The piano in Marvin Center, on the other hand, is a baby grand with functioning pedals and hammers, which allows students to play with better tone, articulation and style.
I also understand why administrators chose to put one of the nicest pianos in Marvin Center. The piano is conveniently placed across from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, an area prospective students walk through almost every day. A baby grand piano shows those students that the University promotes the arts. Still, the majority of instruments are tucked away in the Philips basement, obviously not within prospective students’ sights. The University’s support for the arts should not just be for show. The University needs to demonstrate its support for the arts and invest funds in the music department to fix or replace the out-of-tune, broken pianos.
All University-owned pianos come from Steinway, one of the best piano brands. These pianos were not all bought by the University, though – 28 pianos were given to the school by a gracious donor 10 years ago. While these gifts were generous and expanded resources to students who practice music, the pianos require upkeep like tuning and replacing hammers, which can cost thousands of dollars. The University should give the music department the necessary funds for instrument maintenance so students do not have to wait around for another donor or play on the public piano in Marvin.
The outdated pianos speak to a larger University issue of overlooked arts and humanities departments. GW is taking the first steps to decrease the proportion of undergraduates and grow the fraction of STEM students, which is fine, but officials need to ensure that non-STEM departments can function just as well as science and engineering fields. D.C. has made several efforts to support the arts by creating a Cultural Plan in 2018 that dedicates a portion of its sales tax to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. GW should continue supporting the arts by investing in areas of the University that need funds for upkeep – one being the music department.
Recent and planned budget cuts to humanities may make it much harder for music students and faculty to continue operating. The music department is already confined to the basement of Phillips, and the only other infrastructure dedicated specifically to the arts is the Flagg Building, which is on the edge of campus and inconvenient to hold concerts. It is difficult for performing students and faculty to lug their equipment across campus, and it also leads to lower audience turnout because people do not want to travel that far to attend a concert.
While there are larger looming issues about support for the arts to be tackled, the University can start by at least maintaining the necessary budget for music students to practice. The piano in Marvin Center might be annoying, but the solution is not to remove the piano. Officials should work to fix our existing pianos in practice rooms. Students should not be left hoping that another donor will come and save the arts at GW. The University needs to take direct action and support the arts.
Laya Reddy, a freshman majoring in political science and music, is an opinions writer.
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