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Wayne Dempsey starts Brenau on its Steinway quest
Brenau University music professor Ben Leaptrott, left, and Wayne Dempsey, a former Brenau Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, give a "thumbs up" to reviews of the new Steinway concert grand piano.

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To contribute to the Dempsey Steinway and the All-Steinway project, go to and make a donation. For more information, contact or call 770-718-5309.

Wayne Dempsey started taking piano lessons in the first grade, 59 years ago.

That first lesson ignited a love of music that will inspire generations of musicians at Brenau University in Gainesville.

Brenau’s first Steinway piano, a No. 481 handmade Steinway and Son’s Model D Concert Grand, has been dubbed "The Dempsey Steinway." The piano currently sits in the university’s Pearce Auditorium.

Dempsey retired for health reasons at the end of 2012 from his post as Brenau’s executive vice president and chief financial officer.

When the university had the idea to become an "All-Steinway School" more than a year ago, Dempsey knew it was exactly what the music program needed.

The university is still in the process of raising $1.5 million to replace the worn-out, unserviceable pianos on campus with 30 new Steinways. The first piano was leased by the university.

The school currently owns seven Steinways that will either be traded in for newer ones or refurbished, depending on their condition and value. The new pianos will vary in style, size and cost and will be housed in locations around the university’s Gainesville campuses.

The 1878 Council, Brenau’s advisory board, and Alpha Chi Omega sorority are leading the fundraising efforts. They will work to raise funds in several ways, including holding receptions, fundraising events and contacting donors directly. The school doesn’t have a specific date in mind for raising the total amount of funds for the project.

"The all-Steinway project is an important statement about the quality of the music programs at Brenau," said Ed Schrader, Brenau University president. "Wayne knows that better than anyone."

Schrader presented Dempsey with a certificate and a plaque commemorating the piano in his honor in November.

Schrader said he could think of no more fitting honor for Dempsey’s service to the university.

"Over the last eight years, nobody has worked more diligently and successfully to put Brenau into a financial position where we afford to acquire an internationally recognized, concert quality instrument such as this Steinway piano," Schrader said. "Beyond his expertise in financial management, he is a really fine musician."

Dempsey said he’s passionate about music because he "knows the richness of life that music can add."

"In another life I was a musician," Dempsey said, laughing. "I have some of that talent left over now, but it’s a small amount."

Since moving to Gainesville in 2005, Dempsey has become a "front and center fixture" at musical events both at the school and at his church, First Baptist Church on Green Street. He also served on the board of the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra.

He said music is a passion he shares with his family. Dempsey plays the piano and euphonium in the church orchestra. His wife and two sons also play musical instruments.

Dempsey said he felt honored to have the first of the concert grand pianos named after him.

"It has been a real honor to be a part of Brenau University," Dempsey said. "I can’t tell you what an honor it was to be recognized by having my name attached to that first concert grand."

Dempsey said having the grand piano will only help to elevate an already impressive music program.

"This is such a critical program for Brenau," Dempsey said. "I just embraced it from the beginning because I knew how old our instruments had become. The students need to be learning to play correctly on the right kind of instrument."

Dempsey said the quality of the instrument is evident to the trained ear, which is exactly what the university’s music program aims to cultivate in each student.

The piano also serves as a representation of the university’s commitment to its music degree programs.

"As students come and look at our program and what we offer, the significance of being an ‘All-Steinway School’ is a visual and auditory statement to the quality that we want and have and want to continue to sustain in our music degrees," Dempsey said.

According to the Steinway website (, a grand piano takes more than one year to build by hand from more than 12,000 individual pieces. The approximate cost for a grand piano is $150,000.

"A Steinway instrument is not one the cheaper instruments," Dempsey said. "So people know that is someone has committed to a Steinway program, they’re committed to the very best."

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