Piano Program celebrates 100 years

As part of the back-to-school Art Bash and “Sit Down & Tickle the Ivories.” four pianos will be dispersed around campus for students to play. The pianos are from last year's "Play me, I'm Yours" campaign. // Conor Barry file photo

As part of the back-to-school Art Bash and “Sit Down & Tickle the Ivories.” four pianos will be dispersed around campus for students to play. The pianos are from last year’s “Play me, I’m Yours” campaign. // Conor Barry file photo

When Leigh Harline  wrote the lyrics, “When you wish upon a star / Makes no difference who you are / Anything your heart desires / Will come to you,” from Disney’s “Pinocchio,” movie-goers were inspired to follow their dreams.

On Wednesday, in honor of Harline, and of course, the character Pinocchio, A Century of Piano at the U — “Sit Down & Tickle the Ivories” will allow U students to chase their hearts’ desires.

You may ask, ‘What does Leigh Harline have to do with the U?’ The answer: Harline was a noteworthy student from the School of Music’s piano program, finishing college in the 1920s.  Following his graduation, he went on to work for Walt Disney. His career at Disney Studios fostered two Academy Awards — one for Best Original Song for “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and one for Best Original Music Score for the movie “Pinocchio.”

Several talents have surfaced from the U’s Piano Program over the last hundred years, such as Harline and Michael Stewart, winner of the 2012 American Protégé International Concerto Competition.

In order to recognize the accomplishments of U artists like Harline and Stewart, A Century of Piano’s U Campaign has taken inspiration from last year’s “Play Me, I’m Yours” happening, in which street pianos came to downtown Salt Lake City and afterward were dispersed across the Salt Lake area. Seven of them were given to the Legacy Music Alliance (LMA). Three of these pianos are now heading to the U as part of the back-to-school Art Bash and “Sit Down & Tickle the Ivories.” The decorated pianos will be at the Marriott Library Plaza and available to all students and faculty.

“Sit Down & Tickle the Ivories” organizers hope to bring a love of piano to non-music majors.

“They will have some piano majors that will come and perform, but they are also going to have the pianos just out and available, so that students, faculty and anybody who… passes by can also just sit down and play,” said Keith Sorensen, director of the LMA K-12 program. “I’m quoting one of my colleagues at Legacy, but the innovation behind it is that we are bringing music to where people are, rather than asking people to go where music is.”

The LMA is all about music education, working to bring song to the lives of middle school and high school students. Now, it is striving to highlight music education at the collegiate level, by giving its “Play Me, I’m Yours” pianos a second life. The LMA is also awestruck by music’s ability to tromp the generational gap. To Sorensen, instruments will always inspire people. He believes the piano program’s centennial proves this true.

“When I was in grade school, I had to go to the library and find content … Now, we go to Google, where music from hundreds of years ago is still valid, and the way that we access that music — by practicing, performing and actually playing the instrument — hasn’t changed since the invention of music,” Sorensen said. “At the same time, music is still innovating, by incorporating not only technology, but new music.”

In addition to “Sit Down & Tickle the Ivories,” the School of Music’s largest program has much planned for the first year of its second century. Fitting in with the LMA’s mission statement, the program’s students spend time teaching piano.

“Our students teach at the Piano Preparatory School on campus, as well as in the Piano Outreach Program in the inner-city Title I Schools of Salt Lake City,” said Susan Duehlmeier, piano area chair for the School of Music.

Along with implementing students’ teaching skills, the piano program is planning an upcoming Piano Gala for April 12. The show will be themed “Following Your Dream,” words taken from Harline’s “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

To Melissa Ballard, “Following Your Dream” extends to “Sit Down & Tickle the Ivories.” As an alumna of the School of Music, Ballard has pushed to further its success.  In the past, she served as its first advisory board chair. Now, she and husband Craig Ballard chair the Century of Piano at the U Campaign.

“If I listen to something on the radio, all my thoughts are to whatever that person is singing and doing,” Ballard said. “If you hear piano music, you get your own thoughts, and your own emotions and feelings.”

To Ballard, music brought forth from the piano encourages people to get creative. For instance, the sounds of classical music may urge someone to paint a colorful picture, much like the artists of Disney’s “Fantasia”.

“The song ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ [applies to piano because] so many people have taken lessons and have been exposed to the piano in one way or another,” Ballard said. “It just means you can do anything you want. Anybody can play the piano.”