LaGuardia Community College will present a free concert on Wednesday, March 28, organized and produced by some 450 students across disciplines, the culmination of a one-year project initiated in part by Steinway & Sons, the Astoria piano company.
The concert, which seeks to tell the story of Steinway going back to 1853, when the company was first founded in New York, will feature five different musical works and some 15 students on stage, either performing or presenting.
And especially for the show, Steinway is loaning the school a concert-level, nine-foot grand piano, directly from its “cream of the crop” stash of 300 at Steinway Hall, according to Anthony Gilroy, director of marketing and communications at Steinway. “That’s like the same piano you’ll find in Carnegie Hall,” Gilroy said.
The concert illustrates how LaGuardia College has increasingly sought to partner with businesses in the community. It was born when Ron Losby, president of Steinway & Sons Americas, visited business students over a year ago to check out work they had done as part of an ongoing Steinway research project, according to Rajendra Bhika, a business and technology professor at the college who spearheaded the concert effort.
Losby’s comments on students’ work at the time, which compared Steinway’s financial documents from the past to those of the present using the Steinway archives housed at LaGuardia, prompted Bhika and his department to conceive of something on a grander scale.
Losby “was thinking about the next 20 years of Steinway in terms of how we reach a more global population,” Bhika said. “LaGuardia has the population he’s looking to market the brand to.”
The enterprising and enthusiastic professor, who is himself originally from Guyana, noted that students at the Long Island City-based college — almost 19,000 were enrolled full-time last year — come from 160 different countries.
“The challenge is getting Steinway out there to a younger audience, ” Gilroy said. “One of our major challenges is connecting,” he added, referring to the message Losby had given LaGuardia’s business students.
So Bhika and the business and technology department decided to help.
They conceived of the concert as not only a learning tool for students when it comes to marketing, accounting, communications and the performing arts, but as a means of introducing Steinway to the very population the company is hoping to reach: young people.
So while management and urban studies students researched the history of Steinway to come up with the concert’s content, communications and English students edited their PowerPoint presentations and speeches, which would be read during the show, according to Andrea Francis, a business and technology associate professor who worked closely with Bhika.
Music students were enlisted to actually perform the pieces at the event, while accounting students analyzed how concerts are run from a financial standpoint. Marketing, communications and photography students worked on promotion, which included developing a website for the show.
And even the college’s Web radio station got involved, by broadcasting a commercial for the event. There are also plans to simulcast the show.
While analyzing the Steinway archives housed at LaGuardia college was something the institution has done for three years, with the concert Bhika took “an existing program and made it wonderful,” said Gail Mellow, president of the college.
Mellow said the partnership between Steinway and LaGuardia’s students on display with the event is part of a broader strategy.
“We want students to really be able to go out and work well in those businesses, and we also want to think about them as a system, an economic system that we want to promote,” she said. “We leverage learning, so that students learn in the context of real work, but we also give something back to the community that supports us.”
LaGuardia’s relationship with Steinway & Sons is just one facet of that strategy. The college has already partnered with Goldman Sachs to offer job training to small businesses, for example, and recently graduated Transportation and Security Administration officers who work at JFK and LaGuardia airports from a three-course program.
As far as Bhika is concerned, the Steinway project offered not only real-world experience for the students involved, but a chance to illustrate how business and the arts are not as far apart as they may seem.
“Students don’t normally see the connection,” he noted. “Someone majoring in English, they may not see business as relevant to their progression or their growth.” But through participation in the concert, Bhika said he hoped he had instilled “the value of creating budgets, the ability to manage costs, the ability to break even” across disciplines.
Much of the project, Francis added, was about “the accounting behind the art.”
And for the students at LaGuardia, many of them immigrants, the story of Steinway & Sons — a company founded by German immigrants, whose workers through the 1800s to the present were often representative of the successive waves of immigrants to New York as a whole, whether German, Italian, Haitian or Guyanese — is compelling.
“They can see themselves in the story,” Bhika said.
The results of the students’ work got the thumbs up from Gilroy.
“They had a mailer that they showed me,” Gilroy said of a group of students who visited him at the Astoria factory recently. He said the work had been done “very elegantly.”
The Steinway concert will take place from 2:15 to 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28, in the Little Theater, located in LaGuardia’s M building at 31-10 Thomson Ave. It will feature “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster, representing the early days of Steinway (from the 1850s to 1860s); Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” (representing the 1870s to 1880s); Louis Armstrong’s “St. Louis Blues” (representing the 1920s); John Lennon’s “Imagine” (representing the 1970s); and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” (representing the present and future).