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Rocky Mountain College Establishes Hybrid Piano Lab to Strengthen Music Program

BILLINGS, MT – Concurrent with the revitalization of its music scholarship program for incoming students, Rocky Mountain College in Billings, MT, has reaffirmed its commitment to quality music education with the creation of a new Yamaha digital/acoustic hybrid piano lab.

Following consultation with Greg Depner of Montana Pianos, college officials ultimately selected nine Yamaha NU1 hybrid pianos for the lab, which is the second Yamaha hybrid piano lab in the United States.

The NU1 is the world’s first digital/acoustic piano to combine a superb upright action — featured in Yamaha’s higher-end upright pianos — with the lush sound sampled from the finest hand-built Yamaha instrument, the CFX concert grand piano. Inspired by the legacy of the immensely popular U1 acoustic upright piano, this innovative instrument never needs tuning and is a fraction of the cost of a comparable grand piano, making it ideal for school music programs, particularly those on a stringent budget.

Since the NU1 creates sound digitally, and can be interconnected to other Yamaha hybrid pianos via audio outputs, a teacher can instruct from one instrument, while interacting with many students at once, each of them learning in the privacy of their individual headphones.

“I am very impressed with the NU1 because of its sound quality and am excited to be able to teach in a group learning environment where I can have all the students play at once, by themselves, or in small groups to utilize a full range of teaching pedagogies,” says Dr. Jennifer Bratz, associate professor of music at the college. “Since we’re a small school with limited resources, the opportunity to have a high level instrument that doesn’t need to be tuned was a clear deciding factor.”

For Rocky Mountain College music students, the NU1 piano lab represents a significant improvement over the 66-key digital keyboards that had been the mainstay of music instruction at the school prior to this upgrade. College officials knew that new pianos would need to be placed in a multi-purpose space — which also houses a grand piano and seating for classroom instruction in music theory and ear training courses — so the size of the piano lab was important. Budgetary concerns were another important consideration, and a fundraising campaign culminated with a solo piano concert by Montana native, Philip Aaberg, a Grammy-nominated pianist and composer who gained international recognition for his Windham Hill releases.

“Our decision to install the new NU1 piano lab is one of two concrete expressions of our recommitment to the music department and our students,” says Dr. Robert Wilmouth, president of the college. “We have also revamped our music scholarship program, which we haven’t offered in many years, and anticipate that our new lab and the availability of student scholarships will increase enrollment and attract new donors.”

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