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Yale alum Preston Athey ’71 creates Dean's Piano Fund at YSM

Piano in Hendrie Hall practice room. Photo by Matt Fried

Photo by Matt Fried 

At the Yale School of Music, piano notes resound through the halls at nearly every hour of the day. In practice rooms and studios, students perfect their skills with the instrument, while faculty members use pianos in seminars and intensive one-on-one tutorials. Renowned pianists from around the world visit campus to perform recitals and teach master classes. The School’s piano program enrolls twenty-four students—more than 10 percent of the student body—and has seven faculty members. 

Beyond the formal piano program, however, the instruments are the basis and foundation for nearly everything that happens at the School. In recitals throughout the year, soloists performing on other instruments are typically accompanied by pianists. Chamber orchestras, full orchestras, and other musical performances at the school often include a piano. Student and faculty composers also require pianos for their work. 

In the course of daily use for concerts, recitals, practices, and classes, YSM pianos are frequently moved around the School to accommodate programmatic and classroom needs. This leads to wear and tear on the instruments. Each piano at the School gets played much more than one in a private home, and this heavy use means that the School’s pianos have lifespans of around 25 years. Each year, some of the School’s 120 pianos need to be replaced. 

World-class instruments for world-class musicians

A recent gift from Preston Athey ’71 has created the Dean’s Piano Fund at YSM, which will be used to purchase approximately a dozen new pianos over the next four years, ensuring that the School’s musicians have access to instruments of the highest quality. The first pianos from Athey’s gift will be placed in faculty studios.

“Our faculty members are among the finest pianists and artist teachers,” said Robert Blocker, the Henry and Lucy Moses Dean of Music and an accomplished concert pianist. “In addition to teaching, they maintain a rigorous schedule of performing and practicing. Our students come here specifically to study with these esteemed musicians and instructors. Right now, Preston’s gift is going to provide instruments that rise to the level of our faculty’s talents. Going forward, we will be able to meet our piano needs as they arise, thanks to Preston.”

The Yale School of Music enjoys a special designation as an all-Steinway school. Every piano at the School, from smaller uprights in practice rooms to larger instruments in faculty studios and concert grands in performance spaces, is made by the Steinway & Sons piano manufacturing company. Steinway pianos are renowned for expressing subtle nuances of color and tone with great complexity and richness. 

A music lover gives back

“Music is such an important part of life at Yale,” said Athey, a former Whiffenpoof who has contributed to the restoration of pianos at Silliman College and made a previous gift to purchase pianos to celebrate the opening of the Adams Center for Musical Arts at YSM. “In the hands of skilled masters like those who teach at Yale, the piano is capable of expressing sublime emotions. I am very happy that my gift will help YSM faculty and students hone the art of playing this instrument.”

“Preston has such a wonderful love for music,” Blocker said. “His gift helps ensure we have the instruments we need to fulfill the School’s mission to educate and inspire students for service to the profession and to society. These high-quality pianos enable us to provide the very best education to our students, who go on to become not just renowned musicians but also cultural leaders.”