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“It really needed to be played,” she said.
Now, the faculty and students in William & Mary’s Department of Music are happily fulfilling that wish. Roller donated the piano to the department this summer. It is currently being used in the Ewell Hall studio of Ryan Fletcher, Lecturer of Voice and Director of the Opera Workshop at the College.
“The reaction of the students has been wonderful. Last year, I had an old Mason & Hamlin in here and it was pretty bad,” Fletcher said. “When they rolled this in, the students were just thrilled. And in a voice studio, it’s nice because we’re constantly using it to accompany students. We do all of our opera rehearsing in here. It’s a perfect gift.”
Though Roller, a resident of Mathews, Va., has no direct ties to William & Mary, her family has long called Virginia home. When she considered where her cousin, Elizabeth R. Walker, would have wanted the piano, Roller knew the perfect place. She contacted Judith Zwelling, Director of Applied Music at William & Mary, in July.
“I had been thinking about William & Mary for a long time,” she said. “(Walker) would just love to know that William & Mary had this. She would write at length about our family tree and genealogy and the history of Virginia, so it being here would mean so much to her.”
Founded in 1853, Steinway & Sons is one of the most respected names in piano craftsmanship. According to the company website, “Steinway remains the choice of nine out of 10 concert artists, and it is the preferred piano of countless musicians, professional and amateur, throughout the world.”
The donated piano was built in 1915, during the “golden age” of pianos, a time when many families had them in their homes. Though much of the piano has been restored, the keys and the piano bench are fully original. The age of the piano gives it a different tone, one that is easier for singers to be heard over, making the instrument perfect for vocal accompaniment. Additionally, the ivory keys provide those who play the piano with a different feel. Many students have never played on ivory keys; now, thanks to Roller, they have that opportunity.
When Roller recently visited the piano in its new home at the College recently, she said she was delighted to see it being cared for and put to such great use.
“If I had just sold it to a private party or something, that wouldn’t have been very interesting,” she said. “I wouldn’t know if they were playing it. It would just be stuck in a room somewhere.
“I hope it’s here for a long time. I hope it stays useful for a very long time.”