Two Steinways!

Sen. Lamar and Honey Alexander put campaign over top with $105,000 piano purchase

Sen. Lamar Alexander plays the piano as part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 75th anniversary celebration while Knoxville Symphony Orchestra conductor Lucas Richmond conducts.

Sen. Lamar Alexander plays the piano as part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 75th anniversary celebration while Knoxville Symphony Orchestra conductor Lucas Richmond conducts.

The effort to raise $210,000 to cover the cost of two Steinway grand pianos for the soon-to-be-completed Clayton Center for the Arts wrapped six weeks early after U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and his wife, Honey, pledged $105,000 to purchase one of the pianos, and several other individuals and a corporation stepped up to make sizeable donations.

Twenty-five local individuals and families supported the effort that kicked off with the formation of The Grand Players Society on Sept. 10 at the home of Dr. Fred and Jane Tolhurst. As a part of the Grand Players Society structure, there was a naming opportunity if someone made a donation equal to the purchase of an entire piano.

The Alexanders saw the publicity regarding the event and called the college, offering the donation for one of the Steinways. That Steinway will be named “The Alexander” in honor of the senator’s parents, Andrew and Flo Alexander, who met in 1931 when they were students at Maryville College.

“When I was 4 years old, my mother drove me to Maryville College for what were then called ‘experimental’ piano lessons,” the senator said. “Those lessons and the artists who performed concerts at the college gave me a love of music that lasts today. Honey and I are glad to help give children today the opportunity to play and to hear artists perform on the best pianos.”

Hickory Construction made the second-largest gift of $50,000 toward the purchase of the second piano and has the special distinction of being the only corporate gift to the Grand Players Society. The company’s gift came in to provide the funds remaining to get the group over the top of its campaign goal.

“Hickory has always recognized the value of Maryville College to our community,” said Burke Pinnell and Chuck Alexander, president and executive vice president, respectively, of Hickory Construction. “The new Clayton Center for the Arts is another example of their commitment. Knowing that we would, in some way, be contributing to the center, we were delighted to participate in this unique opportunity to help with the purchase of the timeless Steinway pianos. We look forward to enjoying performances at the center.”

“They actually put us over the top,” said Jane Tolhurst, who, with her husband, conceived the idea of the Players Society and the need for the Steinways and spearheaded the campaign. “They were the icing on the cake.”

There were three couples who opted to make $10,000 donations: Marti and David Black, Jane and Dr. Fred Tolhurst and Mahdi and Valerie Budayr.

One of them said specifically that she was “paying forward” the gift of music lessons provided by her parents. Another stated that she and her husband had been planning to donate to the Clayton Center campaign, but weren’t sure what to do until they heard of the Grand Players. “This is it,” she shared. “Now we know exactly what we are going to do. We want to sit there listening to something we helped provide.”

Players donating $10,000 and more will be invited to New York in early 2010 to tour the Steinway & Sons factory, which is available only to piano purchasers.

All Players will have their names listed on a recognition plaque in the Clayton Center lobby. They will also be invited to special receptions to meet visiting pianists and will have the opportunity to be hosts and hostesses for piano recitals and concerts.

The Tolhursts said they were gratified by the response to the campaign to buy the grand pianos.

“We were just very fortunate that the idea resonated with some people who were able and willing to make sizeable donations,” Dr. Tolhurst said.

Dr. Tolhurst said that where the idea sprang from was he and his wife believed that Steinway Grand Pianos were needed for the Clayton Center Arts. “From the beginning it was apparent to Jane and me that the art center would be able to attract more and better artists if they had the very best instruments, and it would be a legacy that hopefully will last for year and years,” he said.

Jane Tolhurst thanked everyone who donated to the effort. “It’s the people. We’re just so grateful for the donors who caught a vision like we did. I think everyone who donated either plays or greatly enjoys the piano,” she said. “It’s unbelievable. Just the thought of having a beautiful facility right here at our doorstep not only for us and our children and their children but for the people of East Tennessee, it’s just a tremendous boost to the county, the culture and to the local people sharing our community with a beauty facility, great programming and now wonderful pianos.”

At the Sept. 10 kick-off, the Tolhursts held an event in their Maryville home to introduce the Grand Players Society, a group of donors of $1,000 and more - “players” - who were interested in raising $210,000 for two Steinway concert grand pianos for the performance stages of the Clayton Center. At the event, the couple stressed the importance of finishing the campaign by the end of December.

Jane Tolhurst said the reason they had a December deadline was to place the order for pianos with Steinway so they could get them in time for the opening gala in the spring.

“We thought we had to do this quickly, and we kind of figured this would appeal to people from the start or it wouldn’t. We figured they were going to be affected by whole idea of putting pianos on stage and actually being able to sit there and enjoy their gift more than a steel girder,” she said.

Jane Tolhurst said that because of the large amount and the short time they had to raise it, they had to ask for larger amounts for donations.

“We knew we couldn’t do it with bake sales and $100 gifts. They would have been appreciated, but we couldn’t have made our goal in a short time,” she said. “We had to start with levels of giving at $1,000 and going up to a naming opportunity for a whole piano at $105,000. That’s why we geared giving levels like we did.”

Jane Tolhurst said when the senator and his wife decided to buy an entire piano, she felt disbelief and extreme gratitude that they would be that generous. “That was half our goal, and we only had to pay for another piano. We were $50,000 from goal when Hickory Construction made their decision. When I got the call they were going to give us $50,000, I was so excited I drove straight to the college and went flying into (CCA executive director) Robert Hutchens’ office,” she said. “We were just so grateful we would get a corporate gift because the two owners caught the vision.”

Dr. Robert Bonham, Maryville College professor emeritus, and Dr. Bill Swann, the College’s associate professor of music, will travel to New York to make the selection of the two Steinways that will be delivered to the two performance stages of the Center for the Arts in time for the grand opening.

Robert Hutchens, executive director of the Clayton Center, said that the Grand Players’ gifts guarantee that the main stage and recital hall will have excellent pianos from the time the Center opens.

“Many of the very best concert pianists require Steinways, and having them will attract such artists,” he added.

Holly Jackson-Ludlow, vice president for advancement and community relations, said the Steinway campaign is a boost to the overall campaign for the Clayton Center.

“Due to the tremendous success of this private fundraising effort, the college is now able to shift the $75,000 that was budgeted for the stage pianos to the purchase of 20 new pianos that are needed to replace those that have been in storage since the Fine Arts Center was razed,” she said. “We are so thankful to Jane and Fred for their tremendous efforts in making this happen.”

Construction on the Clayton Center for the Arts, which is located on the Maryville College campus, is nearing completion. A public grand opening is planned for March 2010.

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