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All the Right Notes—In All the Right Places

All the Right Notes—In All the Right Places
November 15, 2015 Ho‘oulu Staff

More pianos on campus means more places to practice and perform


Prior to Spring 2014, if you wanted to take a piano class at UH Maui College, you had to own a piano or have access to one off-campus. Now you can practice on any one of the digital pianos located at Lahaina Education Center and several places on the main campus in Kahului. Whether you are taking a piano class, have taken a piano class or already know how to play, the pianos are provided for your use.

The philosophy of providing pianos for students, faculty and staff to use around campus is akin to providing shared facilities such as computers with Internet Access, drinking fountains, restrooms and quiet places to study or meet. Until digital pianos get small and inexpensive enough to be portable like smart phones, it is too early to expect a student to “own” both a piano and a space to practice.

To remove barriers to taking the piano classes, which are offered at three different time periods each semester, the music faculty allows students to practice with headphones on any of the two-dozen digital pianos in the music classroom in Kupa‘a 104 while other classes are in session. Most piano students are respectful not to walk across the room or disrupt the class in other ways.

The above arrangement does not work when Kupa‘a 104 is locked on the days and times when no class is in session. What’s needed is access to pianos outside the classroom. The ideal set-up is an assembly of soundproof rooms, each with a piano and a method for students to reserve time for practice. Windward Community College has three such piano rooms allocated for their students.

Where at UH Maui College can we find small rooms big enough to fit one piano for practice? Without these rooms, the next best thing is to find places whose “owners” welcome pianos. Placing a piano in a venue not designated for music may seem strange at first. For the cautious few, being responsible for someone else’s possession presents a liability. What if it gets abused or, worse, stolen? For the optimistic majority, a piano drives new traffic to the site, and as a result, brings new opportunities for engagement and connection.

Consider the multiple functionality of a venue such as the library. Assistant Professor and Public Services Librarian Ellen Peterson believes that libraries should make learning visible. “At the library, we have replaced walls with glass, feature art and student-led displays and encourage a variety of learning objects in the space,” she explained. “Because the piano is an important and popular learning object at UHMC, we were happy to create a space for it.” In April 2015, a digital piano was placed in the Media Room, a space next to the library entrance with large glass windows allowing this type of learning to be easily accessible as well as visible.

“At the library, we try to model a learning community where there is collaboration, flexible and modular areas, and integrated services,” Peterson continued. “A benefit of having the piano in the library is that students can practice piano, watch an instructional video online or at one of our media stations, and check out sheet music all in the same building. Our students should be able to learn and ‘study’ the piano in the same environment that they would traditionally study for a math exam, for example.”

Given that more than half of the students taking piano classes are part-time (less than 12 credits per semester), it was possible to seek funding from the University of Hawaii Community Colleges (UHCC) part-time student initiatives grant to acquire new digital pianos. Three of these pianos were allocated to the Lahaina Education Center, Veterans Resource Center (VRC), and the Learning Center (TLC). The remaining five were added to Kupa’a 104, displacing one existing digital piano, which was moved to Laulima Building Room 105.

Each location is different.

Laulima Room 105 provides both pianos and space for students.

Laulima Room 105 provided both pianos and space for students.

Laulima 105, possibly the largest room in the building, is used primarily by three programs: EdVenture, the Maui Language Institute (MLI) and the Sustainability Living Institute of Maui (SLIM). When the room is not in use, you can play without headphones and watch your posture in the big wall mirror. When the room is occupied, you simply have to ask the instructor permission to play the piano with your headphones.

The black Casio digital piano in the room next to the VRC is a popular choice because the space is large enough to have good acoustics but small enough to feel private. Former piano student Kim Watts, a veteran and student monitor at the VRC, said, “I really enjoy having the piano here because it compliments the relaxing atmosphere while encouraging piano students to perfect their skills. Even though the piano is in the adjacent room of our center, you can still hear the melodic chords being played through the walls.”

In November 2014, a dozen piano students brought four digital keyboards to the VRC classroom to celebrate the first anniversary of the VRC.

VRC: Pianists celebrate the anniversary of the Veteran Resource Center, November 12, 2014. Photo credit: Harvey Reed

VRC: Pianists celebrate the anniversary of the Veteran Resource Center, November 12, 2014. Photo credit: Harvey Reed

One of the students who found the piano at the VRC useful is U.S. Army veteran Luke Vorous, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Program student. “The reason I was able to progress easily was because of my schedule and ability to practice regularly,” he said. “Learning piano was a great experience for me and although I don’t play every day, now that I’m out of school, I still own a keyboard and play the songs I enjoy the most frequently.”

The Learning Center, known for its placement testing, free workshops and tutorial help, was transformed into a concert hall on Earth Day 2015 when the black Casio digital piano was “opened up” for a solo piano recital.

Kristine Korey-Smith, director of TLC, welcomes a future concert or music workshop after the summer renovations. “At first, it seemed like a stretch to have a piano in TLC, but then I realized that it really embodies the message that we want to send to students: if you want to be good at something, you need to practice,” she said. “Most students get that about playing music – the more you practice the better you get, and the more likely you are to reach your goals, but they forget the same applies for math and writing. So for me, the piano is a visual reminder that TLC is a place that students can come to practice, so they can achieve their educational goals.”

Besides having access to a piano, pianists are also invited to contribute to the “piano binder” that is lodged at each location. By default, the ring-binder contains a sign-in and sign-out sheet, a collection of sheet music (ranging from easy to difficult) and interesting articles about playing the piano. The sign-in/out sheets help to monitor usage, which will support future application for grants and sponsorship of pianos, maintenance and related activities.


Location Piano (year) Headphones Opening Hours
Lahaina Education Center Casio PX750BK Privia Home Piano+Stand

18 Sounds 128 Polyphony (2014)

Provided Mon – Thurs: 9 am – 7 pm

Fri: 9 am – 2 pm


Veterans Resource Center Casio PX850BK Privia Home Piano adv

AiRsound+ 2″Tweeters 256Polyphony (2014)

Provided. Not necessary if no one else in room. Mon – Fri: 8:30 am – 8 pm


The Learning Center Casio PX850BK Privia Home Piano adv

AiRsound+ 2″Tweeters 256Polyphony (2014)


Yamaha P-115B Digital Piano14 voice + Rhythms + Styles (2015)

Provided. Mon – Thurs: 9 am – 7 pm

Fri & Sat: 11 am – 5 pm


Library Korg LP180BK Digital Home Piano Blk (2015) Provided. Mon – Thurs: 8:00 am – 6 pm

Fri: 10 am to 4 pm

Laulima 105 Older digital piano Not necessary if no one else in room. Usual school hours when building is open
Kupa’a 104 Steinway Concert Grand (1968)

Baldwin Baby Grand

2 dozen digital pianos

Bring own adaptor and headphones. See class schedule for opening hours.



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