Major Gift Makes CSU an All-Steinway School

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- A major gift will make it possible for students and faculty at Columbus State University’s Schwob School of Music to practice, compose and perform exclusively on Steinway pianos.

CSU officials announced the gift from the Maxine R. and Jack S. Schiffman Family Foundation during a ceremony Thursday at Legacy Hall in the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, home to the Saunders Center for Music Studies and the Schwob school.

Sixty-eight new Steinway pianos, valued at more than $2.5 million, will be purchased as a result of the gift, giving the Schwob School of Music more of the handmade instruments than any other Georgia institution. CSU will purchase 44 upright pianos and 24 grand pianos, including one Hamburg Steinway concert grand for Legacy Hall. The pianos will arrive in August, before fall classes start.

“Offering all our students Steinways – and nothing but Steinways – to practice with and to perform upon throughout their years at Schwob prepares them best for their musical careers,” said Fred Cohen, director of the Schwob School of Music. “Steinway pianos are the standard. Experience with and exploration of the well-maintained Steinways in the RiverCenter will set the level for professional expectations in piano sound throughout the lives of Schwob faculty, students and in the Columbus community.”

The Schiffmans are longtime supporters of CSU, particularly in the fine and performing arts. The Schiffman family made a gift to the Columbus Challenge campaign in the 1990s that resulted in the naming of the Schwob school’s percussion teaching suite in memory of Jack S. Schiffman Sr., the founder of the Columbus-based Casual Corner clothing store chain, who died in 1994. A later gift from the family foundation equipped the suite with state-of-the-art instruments. Other gifts supplied instruments for CSU’s Wind Orchestra and Philharmonic Orchestra and created scholarships that attracted gifted students from throughout the world.

In 2007, CSU named Maxine Schiffman an honorary alumnus. She’s the mother of one daughter, Mary Beth, and two sons, Robert M. and Jack Schiffman Jr., a 1978 CSU alumnus.

German immigrant Henry Engelhard Steinway founded his company in a Manhattan loft in 1853 after creating 482 pianos as a master cabinet maker. Today, the company crafts about 5,000 pianos a year, combining nine varieties of wood with other carefully selected materials.

“A Steinway has a wooden, non-metallic quality to its sounds,” Cohen said. “It sings, maintains a resonant timbre from softest to loudest and supplies an evenness of the sound from lowest to highest. In the hands of an artist, this versatile instrument shapes movement into sublime music.”

Rex Whiddon, director of major gifts and university stewardship, praised the Schiffman family’s generosity in offering a “transforming gift, one that will shape the destiny of the music school in profound ways.”

Whiddon, a former director of CSU’s music program and an accomplished pianist, had long pursued the possibility of such a gift. “For more than 15 years, I have dreamed of the day I might be able to make this announcement,” he told CSU supporters Thursday.

“The Schiffmans have long been supporters of excellence in the arts at CSU, and this gift stands as an unsurpassed example of that commitment,” Whiddon said. “Students, faculty and concert-goers will be hearing evidence of that commitment and will always be able to remember the legacy of Jack and Maxine Schiffman.”

Cohen said the gift makes it possible for the Schwob school to continue attracting world-class students. “Becoming an all-Steinway school is a benchmark in the storied history of the Schwob School of Music,” he said.