Farmer School Explained: The Piano

Ben Phillips III playing the piano in 2018


Opened in 2009, the Farmer School of Business building has more than 4,100 students, nearly 200 faculty and staff, almost 50 student business organizations and fraternities, more than 30 classrooms, seven academic departments … and one grand piano.

Which sometimes brings up a question: Why does a business school have a piano in its commons, let alone a grand piano?

Part of the answer is Jim Lewis. Lewis, a 1963 Miami graduate, works in investment banking in New York City. He and his family were the endowed sponsors of the Mock Trial program for several years, and later established the Jim and Beth Lewis Endowed Professorship in Psychology.

The other part of the answer is that Lewis is also a longtime friend of then-dean Dr. Roger Jenkins. “I asked him one day, I said, ‘Jim, we've got a gorgeous, gorgeous lobby at the Farmer School, and I'd love to have a grand piano. Might you be aware of one that you could donate and send it for us?’ And he laughed and said, ‘As a matter of fact, I am, and I’d be delighted to.’”

Lewis is something of a collector of fine items, including pianos. “He would collect them and he would trade them up, much like collecting art,” Associate Vice President for Development and External Relations Kirk Bogard recalled.

So when the Farmer School was putting the plan together for the new building, he offered several items. One was a set of Chinese vases, which now sit on the long table at the end of FSB 2043. Another was a Chinese armoire, currently in storage.

The final item was a 1995 Seiler 208 grand piano. “I believe he owned seven pianos at that time. This one, he had previously traded for it with someone else,” Bogard said.

But why ask for a piano? “I made a conscious effort in different ways during my tenure as dean to try to connect with the liberal arts, to connect with music and arts,” Jenkins recalled. “I always had a firm philosophy that we can connect and have a little more respect for the business school if we showed that we had an interest in the arts, music and so forth.”

When the piano arrived from NYC, it stayed in storage at Millett Hall for a few weeks until the opportunity to move it to the Farmer School arrived. “The piano comes apart and they just kind of rolled it in through the loading dock on its end,” Bogard noted.

Since the building opened, the piano has been played by countless Farmer School students and faculty, as well as the occasional visitor or Miami University performing arts major. It gets tuned annually to keep it in top shape. A trio of FSB students even played holiday music on it for the Farmer School website.

“I was hoping that it wouldn't be one of those pieces that nobody would play, that it wouldn’t be something that people look at rather than enjoy,” Jenkins said. “I like the fact that the students use it, and it sounds wonderful.”

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