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Bright, Mellow Steinway Awaits Christopher Newport Pianists

Dr. Benjamin Corbin will teach students on new seven-foot piano.

  Thursday, August 8, 2019

To the untrained ear, two pianos may sound exactly alike.

But to keyboard students in the Department of Music, the difference between a short, older baby grand and a majestic seven-foot grand piano is enormous, the differences in sound quite obvious.

A new seven-foot Steinway B piano acquired by Dr. Benjamin Corbin, assistant professor of piano and collaborative arts, makes this immediately clear. Corbin applied for and received a grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation’s E.K. Sloane Fund in order to purchase the piano. It now takes up most of his office.

The instrument has a beautiful touch and tone, enabling him to highlight different techniques for his students. It sounds mellow and smooth in its lower register as he plays a Francis Poulenc composition, yet bright and vibrant in the higher notes that almost pleasantly squeak in one’s ear.

That variety of sounds can be likened to a broad color palette of shades, as opposed to a singular type of green or blue found in a duller instrument.

Those nuances – perhaps heard as teal, olive, kelly, forest, lime – found in a high quality piano such as Corbin’s Steinway B can be brought about through touch, weight, pedaling and other tools that students will learn during their lessons.

“One of the things that’s different about every piano is what we say is the action or the touch, or how it feels,” he said. “So some pianos can be really, really heavy, and you have to work a lot harder and then you’re more prone to injury if you’re not using proper technique. Some pianos are very very light, too light. This has a really great action and the sound is fantastic.”

The 20-year-old fully refurbished piano is the second granted to Christopher Newport through the E.K. Sloane Fund, which has given over $4 million to purchase pianos throughout Hampton Roads. The first was gifted to the university in 2004.

The new piano is also the same length as the other instrument in Corbin’s office. The longer the piano, the more deeply a bass can resound when the hammer hits the string, and the more similar the pianos sound, enabling better lessons.

“What was here previously was a five-foot piano, and in the back I have a seven-foot,” Corbin said. “The problem with teaching students on two different size instruments is that their ears are not going to develop the same way if what they’re playing sounds different from what I’m playing, just based on the size of the instrument, not necessarily what they’re doing. So I felt it was really important that we were kind of on the same page.

“My piano students already know what was here before, and they’ve known all about the process this whole year because I’ve been talking endlessly about it to them, so they’re really excited.” Now, finally, the palette, with its bright and mellow shades, awaits their artistry.

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