A life-sized Steinway Model “B” piano cake created by Buddy Valastro of Carlo’s Bake Shop topped off Shenandoah University’s Sept. 25 celebration of the completion of its All-Steinway School Initiative. Valastro is known as the “Cake Boss” and is one of the stars of the TLC reality show of the same name.
Carlo’s Bake Shop was “all hands on deck” for the cake, which is one of the biggest cakes the bake shop has made. The cake, which took about four days to plan and create, required 120 pounds of black fondant and about 10 people to design and construct. Representatives from the bake shop went to the Steinway & Sons Factory in New York City to take measurements of an actual piano and get some inspiration.
The cake was unveiled following an afternoon ceremony in which Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., Shenandoah Conservatory Dean Michael Stepniak, Ed.D., and representatives from the conservatory and Steinway & Sons addressed an audience of donors, special guests, students, faculty and staff.
The ceremony also included student piano performances; a plaque presentation by Ron Losby, president of Steinway-Americas, and Sally Covaleskie, national director of Steinway Higher Education Sales; and a special video message from Valastro himself.
“I’m really sorry I couldn’t be there personally to celebrate with you guys in becoming an All-Steinway School,” said Valastro. “I did, however, bake a cake so big that we couldn’t fit it in the building! So since your conservatory bought the best pianos from New York, it seemed only fitting to celebrate with the best cake in New York. Well, OK, I’m from New Jersey, but close enough, right?”
The university launched its All-Steinway School Initiative in September 2011 and since then, has raised $2.7 million to add 27 new Steinways and 57 Steinway-produced Bostons to Shenandoah Conservatory’s fleet of concert, studio, and rehearsal pianos. The fundraising campaign was slated take five years yet the university, with support from generous donors, completed it in four.
To qualify as an All-Steinway School, 90 percent of an institution’s pianos—from practice rooms to classrooms to faculty studios and concert spaces—must be Steinway or Steinway-designed pianos. More than 94 percent of Shenandoah Conservatory’s piano fleet fits this bill.
“We wanted the best for our students,” said Fitzsimmons. “If we’re preparing them to perform on the best stages in the world, then we needed to give them the best instruments on which learn. That principle fueled our vision for this initiative.”
“This plan, this dream, this hope, has turned into an extraordinary reality, and one that has even exceeded our expectations and hopes,” said Stepniak. “I’m thrilled, not only that this plan is complete and that the instruments are here, but that we’ve met our needs at every level.”
According to Stepniak, pianos touch nearly every academic discipline across the conservatory. They are located in nearly every practice or performance space, including several faculty studios, rehearsal rooms and suites.
The initiative required both a great idea and a strong plan, said Fitzsimmons, but without the financial resources to bring it to fruition, it would have remained only a dream.
“Several dear friends and donors saw the need and supported the vision,” said Fitzsimmons. “They helped to make this dream a reality. Some said, ‘we can pay for part of a piano.’ Some said, ‘I can do an upright [piano],’ while others said ‘I can provide the concert grand piano.’ It really took everyone understanding how important this initiative was, and how important every gift, at every level, was to completing the vision.”
Now that the initiative is completed, Shenandoah Conservatory joins an elite group—seven conservatories in the United States and a total of 13 worldwide—that bear the coveted “All-Steinway School” status, affirming its commitment to excellence in pre-professional training for all students.
“We have provided for our students in the best way possible,” said Fitzsimmons. “We’ve given them Steinways.”