Calling all music lovers

Five new pianos in locations across campus are waiting to be played

By Joel Bentley

BMus student Serina Mui plays the new piano in the Music, Art and Architecture Library. The instrument is a gift from Tom Lee Music. Credit: UBC Library Communications

BMus student Serina Mui plays the new piano in the Music, Art and Architecture Library. The instrument is a gift from Tom Lee Music. Credit: UBC Library Communications

A student sits at the new grand piano in the Music, Art and Architecture Library (MAA). She has headphones on, concealing the sound, so all you hear is the tapping of keys, rhythmic patterns. It feels like a pre-concert ritual—the quiet excitement of something about to be born. Behind the piano there are rows upon rows of sheet music, the largest collection of scores in Western Canada, waiting to be played. The library is muted and subdued, but the piano calls out to music lovers—beckoning them into the world of sound.

Pianos placed across UBC for you to enjoy

“I love playing with and for others and seeing the joy it brings to everyone involved,” says BMus student Zeta Gesme. A third-year double major in Cello Performance and Economics (Honours), Zeta is one of hundreds of students who have discovered joy at the new grand piano in the MAA at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (IKBLC). It’s all dressed up in black and white, like a butler waiting. At your service. Zeta uses the piano to practice for her piano exams.

Music is about the creation of joy.
— Jeffrey Lee (BComm’09), Executive Director of Tom Lee Music

It’s one of five new pianos that Tom Lee Music provided to UBC this year. The pianos can be found at the Walter C. Koerner Library, David Lam Management Research Library, Woodward Library, and the Nobel Biocare Oral Health Centre—the dental clinic. Two other pianos, previously provided in 2015, are located in the Chapman Learning Commons at IKBLC and the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre. Each piano is available to students, staff, faculty and the surrounding community.

“I thought it was so great that community members could have access to a piano and a library full of music for their own edification,” Zeta says.

The library’s most popular item

Kevin Madill, Acting Head Librarian at MAA, recalls when the idea of the library hosting a piano was initially pitched in 2015. He was cautious at first. A library is a sanctuary, a place of quiet study. But when mandatory headphone use was proposed, he was convinced. Kevin assumed the pianos would primarily be used for practice and theory homework by music students, but the headphones quickly became “the busiest item in the whole library.” He estimates that approximately 4,000 patrons have used the piano in the MAA Library over the past three years, or about three to four people every day.

“What’s been fascinating is that it’s attracted more people to the library. It’s brought people in,” Kevin says.

Take a break, have a seat

Arts student Odetta Li just discovered the piano this September. She’s not a music major, but she grew up playing the piano, taking lessons into her teens. Now, she improvises songs or plays pieces she loves.

“It’s a place to chill between lectures,” she says.

The great benefit of these pianos is the ability to plug in headphones and play in private, which makes them perfect for improvising or relaxing.

“Music is very therapeutic. People have a lot of pressure in their daily lives and they often enjoy an instrument at home,” says alumnus Ron Koyanagi (BEd (Sec) ’84), General Manager of Tom Lee Music’s piano division. But not everyone has the luxury of having a piano in their home, students least of all. Tom Lee Music provided the five pianos to UBC so that students, staff and community members alike could have an avenue to release stress, to improve their mood and mental well-being, and to pursue their musical passions. “We just want them to enjoy music, experience the fun, and take a break from everything that’s going on,” says Ron.

To gain access to one of the available pianos, simply check out a headphone set from a library circulation desk and you’ll have a piano to yourself for up to two hours.

Interested in making a difference? Find out how you can support the UBC School of Music.