A grand gift

Vintage Steinway enhances School of Music

The definition of a grand piano is simple — a large piano with the body, strings and soundboard arranged horizontally and supported by three legs. But what makes a piano “grand”? 

Willson Powell and Karen Brosius can point to the piano they bought 37 years ago. It’s a Steinway — the Stradivarius of keyboards — that was crafted in 1897 with Brazilian rosewood and ivory keys.

Brosius, a former director of the Columbia Museum of Art, attended the Juilliard School in New York City after studying with Nadia Boulanger, a notable teacher of musical composition, at her Parisian school in the Palais de Fontainebleau. Brosius and Powell bought the Steinway not long after Boulanger’s death in 1979, and Brosius enjoyed countless hours practicing and performing on it in their home. 

But when she and Powell began planning for an eventual move to Mount Pleasant, S.C., they decided the time had come for their beloved grand piano to find a permanent new home. Neither is a graduate of the university, but several years ago they became friends with University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides and Patricia Moore-Pastides. 

When their good friend and renowned landscape architect George Betsill passed away in Columbia this past fall, the couple decided to give their Steinway to the School of Music in his memory. Betsill had been a friend of the school for many years.

“We enjoy recalling George’s wonderful personality and delightful company,” Powell said. “We thought this was a fitting way to honor his memory.”

Thanks to their generosity, the piano now resides in the teaching studio of Jacob Will, a professor of voice and chair of vocal studies in the School of Music. Tayloe Harding, dean of the music school, says gifts like this are as extraordinary as they are rare.

“This 1897 instrument itself is stunning, not just sonically but also visually — a real work of art and craftsmanship in every sense,” Harding says. “The piano will not only provide the opportunity for students and faculty of the school to make wonderful music for themselves and others for years to come, its donation also contributes to the steady renewal of our inventory of 140 or so pianos.

“I could not feel more proud nor more privileged that Willson and Karen thought of us at the School of Music when they wished to leave a legacy that is this remarkable antique piano.”

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