Rockley Family Foundation Boosts Music Department


Matthew Gelbart, chair of the department of art history & music, looks forward to new music initiative. (Michelle QuinnThe Observer)


Beginning last fall, the sound coming from a musician’s strings only got richer at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC). Thanks to a recently formed partnership between Fordham and the Rockley Family Foundation, Fordham’s music department received a violin, a cello and new pianos. In return for these instruments, Fordham will host an instrument sale to the general public in McMahon Hall from March 19-21.   

Fordham’s partnership with the Rockley Family Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization that promotes musical education, began when the foundation got in touch with Daniel Ott, assistant professor of the music department, who is now on leave for a faculty fellowship. 

According to Rev. Robert Grimes, S.J., dean of FCLC,  the foundation had to go through the legal office, Provost office and the administrator’s council to receive the green light to sign the agreement. 

“[In the agreement] the Rockley Family Foundation would provide free pianos to the institution; in return we would host a sale of musical instruments for three days at which the instruments they had given us would be sold and replaced with new pianos for next year,” Grimes said. In addition, the foundation “outright gifts” other instruments; this was how Fordham’s music department received the cello and violin for the chamber orchestra.

While the sale will go on to profit the Rockley Family Foundation, Fordham’s music department will also gain some benefits as well. Grimes explained that, depending on how much the sale makes, the foundation will gift additional instruments and possible scholarship money to Fordham’s music students. The sound quality of the instruments would be an improvement for students, which in return equips them with better quality resources to further their musical education.

For the sale, Frank & Camilles, a well-known instrument dealer from the New York metropolitan area, will be stocking the instruments. The instruments, ranging from everything to pianos and guitars, are fairly new and tuned, with most of them being less than a year old. Prices of each of the instruments will vary, depending on the instrument’s brand and size.

Although some students noticed a change in instruments, they also agreed that the quality of instruments could still be improved in the music department. Andrew Abbensett, FCLC ’16, a music major, said the instruments may be better, but the quality still needs to be improved. “The piano in [Lowenstein] 523 is always out of tune; but when it’s tuned, it’s great,” Abbensett said. 

According to Christina Vilar, FCLC ’17,  the quality of instruments still needs more work, but she says there has been improvement. “I think as a department on the whole, we’re really growing. I noticed an improvement,” she said. 

Vilar noted that in Ott’s composition class last semester, she needed a piano in order to compose her work; by this time, a new piano was in place. Although the new piano still had some problems, she found it much easier to compose with its new sound. 

“Before the switch in the new pianos, it was really hard to get the sound that I wanted in the old ones, but now there’s a big improvement in the sound and the quality … People are definitely noticing the music department is picking up speed,” Vilar said. 

According to Matthew Gelbart, associate professor and chair of the department of art history and music, the partnership with the foundation will help the music department move forward. 

Gelbart said,  “This will give us a better idea of what kinds of pianos are reliable … We were offered to get pianos and hope for success to go forward and anticipate how to have them kept up and in tune.” 

Grimes has pondered how to improve the music department in an effective way that is also inexpensive. He believes the Rockley Family Foundation was the right choice, especially since he received positive reports from other colleges that have worked with the foundation and found success. He said, “We are always looking for ways to improve but at the same not to raise your tuition.”