For Good: Entrepreneur donates Civil War-era piano to USF

When visitors arrive at the concert hall at USF’s School of Music, they’ll be greeted by the sight of something new -- only it isn’t new at all.

The school recently received the gift of a Civil War-era Steinway piano from Raxit Shah, a Tampa entrepreneur who founded Liberty Group, a commercial real estate investment firm. The piano had been in his family for four decades prior to being donated, says Dr. Karen Bryan, director of USF’s School of Music.

“This is a really amazing opportunity to have an instrument that shows the history of the Steinway piano,” she says. “To be able to display it and tie it to back to the history is very important to us, to our students, and to our audiences.”

The donation is especially significant because USF is an “All Steinway School,” a designation the school received in 2011. This means that all pianos that students and faculty use are built exclusively by Steinway, Bryan says. More than 200 educational institutions across five continents have this designation, according to Steinway’s website.

But not many of them have an instrument like this one. Built in 1861, the piano is nearly as old as the Steinway company itself. It’s entirely handmade, intricately carved, and consists of more than 12,000 parts.

“It’s a gorgeous instrument,” says Bryan, noting that while it has been played by a member of the music faculty, it’s more of a museum piece than a playing piece. “We’re trying to protect it as much as possible.”

The Steinway will be the oldest piano in the School of Music’s inventory, Bryan says. The next oldest is another piano from the mid-20th century that’s currently under renovation.

As for the future of the piano, Bryan is proud to say it will be part of the School of Music for years to come.

“This is its permanent home,” she says. “We will take excellent care of it.”

The piano is on display for anyone to see, though the best opportunities will be during scheduled performances. For upcoming performance schedules, click here. If you are interested in scheduling a tour, Bryan recommends calling ahead. Contact the School of Music at (813) 974-2311.
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Read more articles by Jaymi Butler.

Jaymi Butler is a writer and editor who enjoys telling the stories of growth and innovation in the Tampa Bay Area, which she has called home since 2003. A former reporter for the Savannah Morning News, The State, and The Tampa Tribune, she has covered a variety of topics ranging from business to features to public health -- and she even got to sit in on an American Idol audition just feet away from Simon Cowell!

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