Mumbai non profit music organisation puts up piano keys for sale

Mumbai’s famed music institution, The Mehli Mehta Music Foundation, in association with Furtados, kicks off crowdfunder to gift Rs 68 lakh grand Steinway piano to its students; donors can sponsor individual keys for Rs 76,000 each.

Music patrons in the city and across the country are in for a rare opportunity where they can sponsor, not an entire grand piano, but just a key from it. The cost? Just Rs 76,000.

PianoIn a first in the country, the Steinway 88 Keys Programme was launched last week by the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation (MMMF), named after Western classical maestro Zubin Mehta’s late father and instituted by classical musician Mehroo Jeejeebhoy. MMMF has its eyes on an instrument from the world’s leading piano manufacturers, Steinway and Sons (also known as Steinway). While it is the smallest model of grand pianos made by Steinway, it comes at a whopping pricetag of Rs 68 lakh, a cost that the non-profit music foundation cannot afford. “We want to raise the quality of Western classical music education in the country and this grand piano from Steinway, known to be one of the best makes in the world, is a step towards that goal,” says Jeejeebhoy, at the Cumballa Hill school.

Steinway-modelOn a suggestion from Kalbadevi’s reputed music instruments store, Furtados, MMMF initiated this fundraiser, allowing people to crowdfund the piano, key by key. Moreover, the actual price of the piano is upward of Rs 71 lakh (based on currency fluctuations) but being offered at a preferential rate of Rs 68 lakh by Furtados for the school’s philanthropic agenda.

Out of 88 keys, 85 come at Rs 76,000 per key; the remaining cost more: the middle C — the first key learnt by a child — costs Rs 1.4 lakh, and the keys of the highest and lowest notes come at Rs 1 lakh each. “This is just a strategy for funding this piano. It is not possible for one donor to contribute entirely,” explains Jeejeebhoy.

Mehroo-JeejeebhoyThe innovative crowd-funding model, which has been occasionally implemented across other countries, is explained on the Steinway website and sometimes even borrowed by pianos of other makes. This time around, the fundraiser is a collaborative effort between MMMF and Furtados, which has the Model S, measuring 5 feet one inch, stored in their warehouse. Anthony Gomes, director of Furtados, says, “We hope that the ask from donors in the Western classical community is not perceived as a substantial one. This is not so much a purchase as much as an acquisition for the school; it has been an aspiration for the school, which has regrettably remained unfulfilled for long due to funding reasons,” he adds. Jeebhoy also says, “When we can spend lakhs on a motorcar, we can do the same for an educational tool of good quality. A Steinway piano is not a luxury.”

As a precedent, the 21-year-old non-profit Foundation has purchased the middle C while Furtados has donated the F, the store’s first letter.

Both Furtados and MMMF testify to the legendary stature of the handcrafted Steinway grand piano, which have been developed over 160 years. “Steinway has an artiste roster of about 1,600 top pianists [including Cole Porter and Billy Joel]. To become a Steinway artiste, there is only one precondition: an artiste must believe in the brand and therefore, own a Steinway piano. Unlike other brand endorsements, Steinway works differently. You must invest in a piano before you can endorse it,” he says.

Anthony-GomesJeejeebhoy, an accomplished pianist, owns a Steinway that she has been playing on for the last 40 years. “It is a fine instrument and gives you many years of good service. I wouldn’t like to compare it with other brands, since not everyone can afford a Steinway,” she says.

The model S is made of carefully selected woods, one of which is Sitka spruce wood from Alaska for the soundboard. The wood selection and construction are such that the sound created by the piano should potentially reach the end of a concert hall without the use of a mic. The science behind the piano, says Jeejeebhoy, should allow students to learn the nuances of controlling the sound and the touch of the keys. Once the piano finds its 88 donors, it will have to be kept in temperate conditions with regulated humidity, tasks MMMF will look into in the future.

The school has currently enrolled 640 students, who start at the age of one-and-a-half and learn instruments around the age of 7 till they reach their late teens. MMMF also does an outreach music lessons for 884 students from low-income communities in BMC schools. “Students will not begin training on a Steinway; it is only in their later years that they will perfect their skills on it. While we help students from low income communities to learn on the violin and cello, it is difficult to train on a piano, since it requires you to have an instrument at home,” says Jeejeebhoy. The Model S will be an addition to the school’s existing seven pianos (among which are two Bostons, also Steinway makes), on which both students learn and teachers practice.

The fundraiser was announced last night at The Singing Tree choral concert of over 180 students from the MMMF, held at the National Centre Performing Arts.

The acquisition of this Steinway is the first step for MMMF to become an All-Steinway School in the coming years, a position held by reputed schools such as the Royal College of Music, London. However, the Steinway association is not without its share of criticism, right from its demand for exclusivity and the “monoculture” of sound it has bred. The pianist Garrick Ohlsson, for instance, was banned in the 1970s from using Steinway after he praised Bösendorfer, another piano manufacturer, in public. Furthermore, will there be those who question the need for a Steinway — the Rolls Royce among pianos — in a music school?

But, both MMMF and Furtados are unfazed by these instances. “This is a chance to create awareness about Western classical music through our junior conservatory. We want our students, whether they are learning or playing it at a concert, to know that they are using a special instrument,” says Jeejeebhoy.

By Benita Fernando | Posted 04-Sep-2016

Published on Mid-Day