Author: Michelle [Shelly] Hillman
Date: April 4, 2017
Categories: Music|Music & Arts

Each life is a song, a unique melody that changes pitch and tone from year to year, new voices added while others fade. Dr. Florence Brush’s 88-year tune is no exception, full of variation and intrinsically tied to the family heirloom piano that she holds most dear.

And now, Houghton is a part of her lifelong composition.

In searching for a new residence for her beloved ‘baby,’ she had one main qualification: that her square Steinway box piano be aptly cared for yet “stay alive” and not be relegated to a storeroom or back corner. When Linda Palmer ’81, her friend and mentee and a graduate of Houghton, suggested that she donate the antique heirloom to Houghton and its top-notch music program, Dr. Brush – “Flossy” to friends and family – was delighted to find such a fitting home. Houghton’s connection with Steinway through Dr. William Newbrough, professor of piano and Distinguished Steinway Artist who holds the Horne-Blanchard Chair in Music, solidified the choice for Flossy and her co-donor brother, Thomas Clapham Jr.

And how fitting that both the rare piano and Houghton College share a foundation year: 1883.

This rare instrument saw the rise and fall of generations, had countless fingers bring the strings to life, and was the catalyst for Flossy’s lifelong affection for music. Its story began with her great-grandparents purchasing the instrument, initiating a family tradition that would survive for over 130 years. She and her sister practiced voice/piano duets and learned popular music on it, and their mother would tickle the ivories while family and friends gathered around – an experience reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. Flossy was motivated to continue learning, even without the technique, spending time in the library to listen to classical records and going to any musical events that she could afford.

In a way, her cherished piano was her gateway into the larger world of music, which has since permeated everything Flossy has done in life. While music wasn’t her chosen career profession, it has long been her refuge as she faced difficult times, such as raising a family singlehandedly on a meager academic woman’s pay in the 1970s. 

For the Greatbatch School of Music, this historical piano symbolizes the classical music that remains at the core of the school’s mission and the heritage that has been so carefully built by generations of faculty, alumni, and administrators. “It reminds us that we are who we were, and the more we understand where we come from, the better equipped we are to embrace the challenges and new vision for the future,” notes Dr. Armenio Suzano, dean and director of the Greatbatch School of Music.

As the college embraces music industry and worship arts while maintaining its existing classical approach, a new type of student emerges: one well-versed in both traditional and modern methods and who is innovative, passionate, and unafraid to adapt to whatever life brings.

Flossy would have fit in well.