Sure, we’d be glad to

West Michigan Piano steps up to help students

Several piano students like Xing Zhang found themselves without access to a piano to practice on when buildings on campus were closed.
Photo of Mary Luisi Lapprand, piano technician
Mary Luisi Lapprand is much more than a piano technician. She goes the extra mile to advocate for students and the college, including teaching at events such as Grandparents University.

When buildings at Michigan State University needed to be abruptly shut down at 10 p.m. on March 23 due to the stay-at-home orders issued in response to the COVID-19 virus, several College of Music students found themselves scrambling to get to the Music Building to retrieve instruments. Most were fortunate and got what they needed in order to practice at home and continue classes remotely.

But how do you move a piano into your apartment? Luckily, caring and helpful MSU faculty and staff stepped in and found solutions.

Photo of Anqi Huang, piano
West Michigan Piano loaned, at no cost, high quality Kawai digital pianos to Anqi Huang and seven other College of Music students.

The Chair of the Piano Area at MSU, Deborah Moriartyand others soon realized the problem this situation caused for piano students who do not own or have access to a piano where they live near campus. An idea was shared that the college loan pianos to students, and Moriarty quickly communicated with and found the students who were without an instrument. That’s when the college’s head piano technician Mary Luisi Lapprand sprang into action.

“We thought briefly about moving digital pianos from the college to the students, but that would have involved a lot of people handling the pianos and having contact with the students,” Lapprand said. “I realized that with the pianos West Michigan Piano had in their inventory, it would be much cleaner and safer if they took them directly to students.”

In all, eight students have received digital pianos from West Michigan Piano. No fees. No contracts. Just a no-strings-attached loan for however long they need it.

It’s a sign of trust between the college and West Michigan Piano that has developed over many years. Owner Ken Wierenga has been in business in Grand Rapids since 1979, but his relationship with Michigan State University and the College of Music goes back ever farther to his days as a high school student attending summer band camps on campusHis knowledge of pianos was even aided in part by a piano technician at MSU, Les Jorgensen, who some 50 years ago offered a course taught with his father, Owen, in piano technology.

For the past several years, the company has loaned new pianos to MSU for faculty offices, rehearsal spaces, and special concerts. As an exclusive dealer of Steinway and Sons pianos, they have loaned two concert grands to the college every other year for the Piano Monster concert. The popular event which returns in 2021 is among many situations in which the company has come through when needed.

Photo of Yinzhe Li, piano
All of the students, including Yinzhe Li, expressed great thanks to West Michigan Piano and the college for helping them during such an unprecedented time.

“As a Steinway dealer, we have a responsibility to the arts community,” Wierenga said, “and we supply nearly all of the concert pianos in Michigan. The music college at MSU is a great asset to the state, and we are happy to do our part to help the students.”

There are many stories of MSU faculty going the extra mile to help students as classes transitioned to remote learning. They include College of Music percussion faculty Gwendolyn Dease and Jon Weber working to get marimbas or vibraphones in the hands of students who needed them now and over the summer.

Staff like Lapprand and the relationships they have formed with partner organizations over the years have helped a lot as well.

“Mary is very persuasive!” Wierenga said. “She is a very good advocate for the college; so much more than a piano tech who just wants to tune the piano and be done. I don’t know of any other school that has an advocate like her.”

But in a true sense of community, Lepprand refuses to accept the credit.

“Everyone was really great,” she said. “From our piano chair (Moriarty) getting the information, to our dean (James Forger) contacting the provost and getting permission, to Ken saying ‘sure, we’d be glad to’ when I asked for help, to the actual delivery of the pianos by the company’s great delivery team – everybody was able to work together to make sure it was safe and effective.”

It’s the Spartan way.

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