UB Piano Club trying to build ‘from ground up’

Temporary SA club finally finding footing at UB

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Until recently, Alex Schwartz would never have described himself as artistic.

Schwartz, an electrical engineering major, never touched a piano in his life until about three years ago when his mother bought him and his brother a keyboard.

He said it changed his life.

“My whole life I thought I wasn’t artistic and then I started playing piano,” Schwartz said. “Once I started, I found out it was everything I ever wanted.”

Schwartz, founder and president of the Student Association’s Piano Club, has been working hard to create a space for musicians and non-musicians alike to try their hand at piano. He said starting the piano club, which is just a temporary club as of now, has been difficult, from lost club applications to a lack of practice space.

“I love the challenge of building a club from the ground up,” said Austin Cadore, the Piano Club’s treasurer and a biomedical engineering junior. “When I graduate I want to leave my mark. I think that UB doesn’t have enough music-oriented clubs, so I think what I’m doing is really important.”

Schwartz said that SA lost his initial club application, preventing him from becoming a temporary club for an entire semester.

“We were ready to go forward in December [2013] and applied in January [2014],” Schwartz said. “We didn’t hear back from SA until March [2014], when they told us they lost our application.”

The Piano Club finally got approved for temporary club status in May 2014, six months after the original application was filed.

SA Vice President Sean Kaczmarek said the process for a club to even gain just temporary status is a long one. He said for clubs to reach temporary status, they must have at least 10 members, a full executive board and a club constitution.

Now, despite having temporary club status, the Piano Club has another problem to deal with: finding a practice space.

Schwartz said there are many pianos around campus – in the Landmark Room, the Flag Room and the Fargo dorms – but none of the pianos are in very good playing condition.

The pianos in the Landmark Room and Flag Room are at least 20 years old – they were acquired from the Music Department when it was upgrading its performance pianos, according to Michael Odojewski, assistant director of Student Life, in an email.

Odojewski said the pianos are tuned and repaired, on the recommendation of their professional piano tuner, twice a semester.

The pianos, however, are constantly in disrepair from their constant usage, Schwartz said.

“The piano in the Flag Room has keys that don’t even work anymore,” Schwartz said. “Finding a piano that is good enough is the hardest part for us right now.”

Cadore said he’s had his own struggles as the treasurer of the club.

Temporary clubs at UB do not receive a budget – they have to raise club funds themselves until they receive a permanent club status and hold at least two fundraisers per semester. They must also have to fulfill two SA community service requirements, two SA participation events and hold two club meetings.

Cadore has been planning events for the club since last May to raise funds.

He held a movie night last semester and is planning another one on Sept. 25 – he is also planning a piano concert in October.

Nathan Dawson, a biomedical engineering freshman, is not apart of the piano club, but often studies in the Flag Room and hears the pianists playing.

“When I visited Geneseo, there were pianos everywhere you looked,” Dawson said. “They were painted and artsy and anyone could play them. I wish UB had something like that – it gives people an opportunity to learn and play whenever they want.”

Charles Smith, an associate professor of music theory, said the Music Department used to have two practice rooms available to anyone who wanted to come in and play the pianos.

But irresponsible students regularly destroyed the pianos and the repair costs were not worth the communal piano rooms, he said.

Schwartz is trying to bring back a community of musicians who care about the music and the instruments they use.

“My goal is to foster a community of musicians – to give students who have wanted to play piano their whole life but may have not had a chance to,” Schwartz said. “The club is for anyone and everyone, and that’s all I want it to be.”

Brian Windschitl is the Senior Arts Editor and can be reached at brian.windschitl@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter @_brnwnd.