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SUNY Cortland dedicates campus piano played by Billy Joel

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  • Staff Report 

Half a century ago, music legend Billy Joel performed at SUNY Cortland, playing his earliest hits on the same Steinway piano used by performing arts students today.

Joel’s two campus concerts made a lasting impression on students at the time, some of whom returned to Cortland last month, as the university officially dedicated the instrument as the Billy Joel Piano during a ceremony that featured a current student playing his music.

Joel offered a short statement of appreciation that was read by Peter Perkins, vice president for institutional advancement:

“I’m grateful that SUNY Cortland students are still able to play the same piano that I performed on back in ’72 and ’74. Thank you to SUNY Cortland for your dedication to music education and enriching the lives of today’s young people through music.”

The dedication was part of a SUNY Cortland reception for emeriti faculty and staff donors in the Corey Union Function Room. Brandon Upton, a musical theater major, performed Billy Joel’s “Vienna” on the piano.

The Sept. 29 dedication was an initiative of SUNY Cortland’s Musical Legacy Committee, a task force of alumni and current and former staff focused on raising awareness of a pre-internet period from roughly 1960 through 1990 when huge stars like Joel, the Grateful Dead and the Eagles routinely performed at SUNY Cortland and other college campuses without the benefit of social media.

Committee members present at the dedication of the Billy Joel piano were Sonia Sochia, Kevin Pristash ’85, M ’91; Jack Samuels ’73; Rocco Scaptura ’68; Ralph Shortell ’66 and Gordon Valentine ’68, M ’70.

The committee first formed in 2018 to help celebrate SUNY Cortland’s 150th anniversary. Since then, it has hosted performances and discussion panels, commissioned and installed a commemorative campus sculpture, and created a series of shadow boxes with concert memorabilia that tell the story of that era.