Rodrigue Steinway Auction to benefit LSU School of Music

While each holding their own respective beauty, the worlds of music and visual arts often times come together to create works that please both the ears and the eyes.

To this end, the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts has joined forces with the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, or GRFA, and Hall Piano Co. of New Orleans in a collaboration that aims to raise funds that will help the LSU School of Music restore and replace its fleet of pianos and to help fund K-12 arts education programs in the state.

Through this partnership, GRFA will auction a one-of-a-kind Steinway piano donated by Hall Piano Co., an authorized Steinway dealer, featuring unique artwork created by famed Louisiana "Blue Dog" artist George Rodrigue. Proceeds from the auction will be divided equally between the School of Music and GRFA.

"I'm very happy to lend my artwork to the Rodrigue Steinway ‘Blue Dog Piano' in order to benefit such great causes," Rodrigue said.

The Rodrigue Steinway was officially unveiled during a special event on Nov. 10 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, held during Homecoming festivities prior to the LSU Tigers' football game versus Mississippi State University. The event also featured a performance of "Tiger Rag" on the piano by Oscar Rossignoli, an LSU undergraduate music student from San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Keeping in tune

Pianos fill very important roles with the College of Music & Dramatic Arts, said Stephen David Beck, director of the LSU School of Music.

"Pianos are the mainstay of any school of music," Beck said. "Frankly, ours have been around for a long time. That's a good thing, because pianos are long-term investments. However, the time has come for us to replace them."

In addition to a drastic reduction of the numbers of scholarships for School of Music students at LSU, several consecutive years of budget cuts have also eliminated any funds that could be used to purchase and retire the school's current piano inventory, which includes an aging fleet of 106 instruments used to teach nearly 600 music students.

"We'll be using the funds raised through auction of the Rodrigue Steinway to help support our piano inventory, which goes to use not just to our classrooms for pianists, but to all of our classrooms and on stage for performances," Beck said. "We use pianos everywhere, and we really need to have good quality pianos."

LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts Director of Development Miriam C. E. Overton said that the college has made no up-front investment in this project. Hall Piano Co. will recoup will recoup only the actual cost of the piano restoration after the auction proceeds have flowed through GRFA.

In addition to serving as a fundraising vehicle, the partnership between the LSU School of Music and GRFA is based on the common goal of transforming education in Louisiana through arts integration.

"The Rodrigue Foundation came to LSU through former Chancellor Mike Martin's efforts to cultivate and collaborate with successful philanthropic, educational and artistic external entities," said Laurence Kaptain, dean of the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts. "The Rodrigue Steinway project is a manifestation of this type of cooperation."

Based in New Orleans, the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts advocates the importance of the visual arts in the development of youth. GRFA encourages the use of art within all curriculums and supports a variety of art educational programs. In 2009, George Rodrigue formed GRFA as a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization. In addition to providing financial assistance in the arts and other areas, GRFA implements a series of unique educational art programs that are specially designed to enhance and expand art curriculums, despite continuing state and federal cutbacks.

"Our partnership with the LSU School of Music represents an exciting combination of the visual and performing arts," said Jacques Rodrigue, GRFA executive director and son of the famous artist. "George Rodrigue's Steinway piano is truly a unique and iconic work of art, and we hope it will inspire support for arts education around the country."

Works of art

George Rodrigue said that the timing was right when he was approached by the College of Music & Dramatic Arts about gracing a Steinway piano with his famous "Blue Dog" imagery.

"This was a project we had thought about a year and a half ago," he said. "It was great when LSU came to me. They had a project too, and asked if I'd paint the piano for them."

After Rodrigue painted the popular "A Number 1 Tiger Fan" Blue Dog, which was displayed at the LSU Museum of Art in 2011, collaboration began between the Rodrigue Foundation and the university.

"The idea of painting a piano came from that collaboration," Jacques Rodrigue said. "It was just a natural fit, because our foundation promotes the importance of the arts and what it can do in education. LSU is the flagship university in Louisiana, and our foundation is about bringing the arts to Louisiana."

The piano was painted in two different sections and in two different locations, with Rodrigue painting the vivid imagery that covers the piano's top while at his personal studio and completing the artwork on the piano's body at the GRFA building, located on Magazine Street in New Orleans' Warehouse District.

Painting a piano was a first for Rodrigue, who said his brush has laid paint onto a variety of out of the ordinary items throughout his career.

"I've painted a Volkswagen one time for Neman Marcus, which sold at their premium for their catalog," he said. "I even painted a Harley Davidson. It was in my studio and in my gallery at one time. The last one I painted was about 10 years ago, so this was a challenge to paint something else in a different way.

Since his canvas in this instance was a piano, and since the auction would benefit music and arts education, he chose to try to paint something that is, in itself, an abstract – music.

"I started with these abstract shapes from a beginning, a beginning of color that expanded to colors melting in with one another," he said. "That's how I decided to do the top. There was no Blue Dog on it, just this melting of colors, almost a whirlpool of colors from a note, and that's how my whole idea started."

In addition to "painting music," Rodrigue included his iconic Blue Dog throughout the work, including a large rendering of the famous canine on the inside of the piano's lid and smaller Blue Dogs on the piano's body.

The Rodrigue Steinway itself a vintage 1913 Steinway Model "A" piano, donated by Hall Piano Co. The instrument was fully restored to Steinway & Sons standards by certified Steinway technicians. It is also equipped with state-of-the-art digital recording equipment.

"Steinway Pianos have always been associated with excellence," said Steve Kinchen, president and co-owner of Hall Piano Co. "Their rich, unrivaled sound, incomparable tone and touch inspires students to realize their artistic talents, and best prepares them to compete at the highest level in the professional world. By providing the finest instruments possible for the study of music, institutions like LSU demonstrate their commitment to excellence at every level of the educational experience to their students, staff and audiences alike."

Hall Piano Co. began in 1958 in New Orleans at the corner of Camp and Julia streets. Dan M. Hall and John D. Wright Sr. started the business with a primary emphasis on the restoration of fine quality grand pianos for the discriminating pianists and reconditioning of upright pianos for students. Hall Piano Co. has firmly established itself as a source for fine pianos as well as one of the leading houses of piano restoration in the country. Their continuing relationship with the prominent cultural arts institutions in New Orleans – such as the Musical Arts Society of New Orleans, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Jefferson Performing Arts Society, Loyola University, Tulane University and The Baton Rouge Symphony to name a few – reflects a continuing commitment to the arts and arts education in Southern Louisiana. More information on Hall Piano is available online at

On tour

Now that the Rodrigue Steinway has been unveiled, it has some work to do before it goes to the highest bidder.

Prior to being auctioned, the piano will hit the road and tour nationally for two years. As part of its tour, it is set to appear at public events and in major presenting venues throughout the country and be played by major performers. It will also appear at college and professional sporting events and concert halls in an effort to garner attention for the auction and for both the School of Music and GRFA.

"Advocacy for arts programs is very important," Jacques Rodrigue said. "The more visibility you can bring to the importance of the arts, the better. We look at the arts not just as the art forms and their respective beauties, but as a way to engage students to learn more and learn in other areas. To have the spotlight put on those issues through this nationwide tour is really exciting."

With a full-time professional staff, GRFA will be the primary planners for the transportation of the instrument during the tour, as well as for the auction process, bidding procedures and the final details regarding disbursement of funds. This will be done in affiliation and cooperation with the College of Music & Dramatic Arts. While the exact timing and nature of the auction has not been determined, it is possible that the auction could take place in either 2014 or 2015.

As part of its tour, the Rodrigue Steinway will be featured at the School of Music's Concert Spectacular, scheduled for Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. The event, which serves as the school's annual concert to raise funds for scholarships, will be held at the LSU Student Union Theater. More information, including how to purchase tickets, is available on the School of Music's website at, or by calling the box office at 225-578-5128.

More information on the Rodrigue Steinway, including a detailed history of the piano's restoration, can be found at or follow the Rodrigue Steinway on Facebook at and on Twitter at @RodriguePiano.

To learn more about the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, call 504-324-9614, email or visit the foundation's website at

For more information on the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts' fundraising efforts, contact Overton at 225-578-8594 or email