By Mike Espiritu
Largely due to 2015 Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA) graduate Kristina Cooper, an elegant Steinway piano valued at more than $20,000 sits in an RU studio room for students to practice on.
Recently donated to the University by Chicago lawyer, Nancy Hablutzel, the piano was delivered to the Music Conservatory in July. The high-quality instrument is now found on the ninth floor of Roosevelt’s Auditorium Building where it is available for use by Music Conservatory students.
After high school, Cooper auditioned for and was admitted into the CCPA’s Music Conservatory before revealing that she had a rare genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). The disorder is difficult to diagnose and affects the connective tissues in her joints. When her symptoms worsened, it sometimes resulted in muscle spasms in her neck, headaches and problems with her vision.
“Dean Berna was my advisor for a while so she gave me a course load that would be more manageable for me. The teachers for my individual classes became aware of my various health issues and did what they could to help,” said Cooper.
Hablutzel came across a front-page Chicago Tribune story that featured Cooper and her time in the CCPA. After reading the article, she quickly identified with some of Cooper’s struggles because she shared the same rare genetic disorder.
The CCPA was able to accommodate and assist Cooper throughout her time at RU by giving her extra time on tests, as well as necessary help from instructors and a more flexible schedule. Hablutzel praised RU for making the accommodations to support Cooper in her pursuit of a degree.
She felt inspired and decided that her piano would be better off in the care of the University after seeing the impact that RU made on Cooper’s college career.
“The piano’s use won’t be so wide open, but a little bit more controlled instead so that we can prolong the instrument’s livelihood. We plan on having students use it primarily in teaching studios,” said Winston Choi the CCPA’s head of piano.
As an instructor’s tool the piano is invaluable to the University. Choi noted that among the many pianist students at the CPA, there was a lack of pianos. “I’m just glad that the piano found a good home where it will be better off and put to good use,” said Habutzel.
In what CCPA Dean Henry Fogel called a serendipitous moment, Cooper and Hablutzel were able to connect and raise awareness for those that struggle with EDS. During an intimate gathering with only a few CCPA faculty and Cooper, the CCPA honored Hablutzel and her donation by putting on a short performance. Cooper played a Prokofiev and Bach piece on the violin while accompanied on Hablutzel’s piano that will help students for generations to come.