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Recital at MTNA Headquarters in Cincinnati

My wife Debbi and I were honored to attend a very special event this past Friday in Cincinnati.  Recently, MTNA moved into a beautiful new headquarters in Cincinnati. The offices were most recently occupied by a Cincinnati law firm and are richly decorated.  Gary Ingle (MTNA CEO) and Brian Shepard (MTNA COO) were approached by the landlord to take an additional space at an extremely attractive price.  While not in the original plans, Brian and Gary envisioned a recital hall where pianists could perform and music lovers could enjoy live piano performances.  After securing the room, they approached longtime partners Steinway and Sons, and Willis Music about securing a piano for the space.  Steinway and Sons supplied the piano and Willis took care of the delivery which was a challenge in itself.  Their offices are in the PNC tower which when built in 1913 was the fifth tallest tower in the world.  The only problem with this beautiful historic building is that it doesn’t have freight elevators and the passenger elevators are extremely small.  We carefully measured and determined that we could fit a Steinway and Sons Model S. Regardless of our careful measurement our fingers were crossed on the day of the move and it went off without a hitch.

This inaugural concert was held in conjunction with the MTNA Board of Directors Meeting with board members and friends present.  Steinway Artist and CCM Eminent Scholar, James Tocco performed and certainly showed off all this beautiful piano is capable of.  He entertained everyone in attendance with not only his music but entertaining stories about the music he chose.

Steinway and Sons and Willis Music were pleased to be asked by MTNA to partner in bringing another live music venue to MTNA members and the music community of Greater Cincinnati.

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Pictured:  (L to R) Gary Ingle, MTNA; Rebecca Grooms Johnson, MTNA; Kevin Cranley, Willis Music; James Tocco, CCM; Sally Coveleskie, Steinway and Sons; Peter Landgren, CCM; Darren Marshall, Steinway and Sons

Willis Goes to Washington

From the second my plane touched down at Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington, DC, it was a whirlwind of activity. The National Retail Federation sponsored the trip and I was honored to be one of 51 Retailers from around the country to receive the distinction of America’s Retail Champions 2015. My focus was with a group from Kentucky who I worked with on the Retail Across America Project.

I arrived on Monday evening, July 27th, and Tuesday morning we began a day of education. We began with a talk presented by Ohio Representative Steve Chabot. I have met with the Congressman in the past and have always found him to be receptive to small business concerns. Throughout the day we learned some interesting facts such as:

  • Retailers directly provide 29 million American jobs.
  • Retail generates 2.59 Trillion in total GDP. 1/6 of the US total.
  • 98.6% of Retailers in the US employ fewer than 50 people.
  • 95% of all Retailers operate 1 location.
  • Retail includes at least 20% of the jobs in each state.
    1. Kentucky is 23%
    2. Ohio is 24%

After all the education, we headed to dinner at the Newseum which is a museum dedicated to news and headlines over the years. When you visit Washington, DC, I would recommend a trip to the Newseum.  Just be aware that it’s one of the few attractions that require payment for admission.

Wednesday was the reason we were all there and we anxiously approached the Hill with visits to a variety of offices. We spoke about concerns we have as retailers and spoke directly to our representatives. Since I was there with a group of Kentucky retailers we focused on the southern side of the river. I appreciated the active participation each member of Congress and their openness in sharing. I will follow up with each of them and continue the dialogue about our industry.

Although I have done similar trips with NAMM over the past 10 years, this was my first time with the National Retail Federation. The NRF had a tremendous program and I want to thank them for their outstanding hospitality.

Now for the fun part – when your state holds the office of majority leader and you have a meeting with him you are escorted into the Capitol and into some pretty famous offices. While we were waiting, the receptionist told me that we were in the very room where Thomas Jefferson was sworn in. She also added that the floor was new because of the fire set by the British in 1814. I have to admit just sitting there looking around and realizing someone like Thomas Jefferson stood there and was sworn in as our 3rd President was pretty amazing.

Regardless of your political feelings or party affiliations, I encourage you to visit our nation’s capital if you have a chance and take a walk back in time.

Kevin Cranley

Baseball time in Cincinnati

This is an exciting time for baseball in Cincinnati and Willis Music is proud to be associated with the Reds. Our connection with the Reds lives on in several fronts and I want to tell you about a few.

John Schutte, organist extraordinaire for the Reds used to work at Willis Music and in fact directly with me. John used his varied musical talents to organize and develop our in-house music typesetting department. John later left to pursue a career in firefighting where he continues today in Saint Bernard. Back in 2010 John and his band, The Rusty Griswolds were playing at the stadium and he questioned if they still had an organ. They did, although it had not been played in a few years. He mentioned that if they ever needed someone, to give him a call. To that they responded, “What are you doing Sunday?” John has been playing with the Reds ever since.

Through our association with John and the Reds we became aware that they needed better equipment for John to play on in the booth. We contacted Yamaha and began working on a solution. Before long John was playing on a brand new Tyros 4 all donated by Yamaha and Willis Music.

But probably the most interesting project we did with the Reds was with the Cincinnati Reds logo organ Willis donated and decorated. We had an organ in stock that we decorated for use around the park. It was an interesting project and involved a wrap like you might see on a car. I think it turned out great and you might see John before a Saturday afternoon game playing in front of the stadium on the Red’s organ. Make sure to stop by and listen.

Baseball is a great tradition in our hometown and has always been a big part of my life. I was fortunate to be in high school during the 70’s and the glory days of the Big Red Machine. If you were there you know how special that was. But my father, who grew up in Boston, played for the Red Sox farm team after the war. He decided the major leagues were not in his future and turned to the music business. Unfortunately I didn’t pick up his baseball ability but I wouldn’t trade the joy and fulfillment the music industry has brought me for anything.

Go Reds

Kevin Cranley

Magical Moments

I’ve met some interesting and famous people in my life and this one for me was truly magical. Henry Z. Steinway represented to me one of the most honored and outstanding brands the world has ever known. He carried the family name of a product that is universally recognized as the finest, period.

The year was 2007 and while attending the NAMM convention in Anaheim, I had the opportunity to travel to Carlsbad, CA to attend the dedication of the Steinway Gallery at the NAMM Museum of Making Music. (If you are ever in the area, Carlsbad is just north of San Diego and it’s a wonderful museum.) At that meeting I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Henry Z. Steinway. We had a chance to discuss his early days in the business and what being a ‘Steinway’ meant to him. Henry was born in New York in 1915 and while he was the great-grandson of the founder Henry Engelhard Steinway he didn’t necessarily have an interest or desire to enter the family business. He graduated from Harvard College and thought ‘maybe I’ll give this piano thing a try’. As he spoke about this time in his life I was reminded of my growing up in the family business (Willis) yet not really sure what I wanted to do with my life. He started on the shop floor doing whatever needed to be done and ended up working in various departments. As he worked, his passion developed all the way to the recognition he received in 2007. In November of 2007, he received the National Medal of Arts presented by President George W. Bush. Henry credited his time with the Steinway skilled craftsman in his early years as more valuable than any amount of study he would have done.

I think one of the more interesting periods in his life was during WWII. As the war broke out, Henry became a factory manager. In 1942, his career was paused as he was drafted and assigned to work on Governor’s Island at the Army’s Counter-Intelligence Corps headquarters. That’s when he met his wife Polly. After the war, he returned to Steinway and Sons and became president in 1955.

As I sat and listened to Henry, I felt like I was experiencing a slice of American/World history first hand. I sensed a wisdom that comes from years of experiences, both good and bad. He was gracious and although there were many people at the opening, when he spoke with me he was totally tuned into our conversation, which I greatly admired. Henry Z. Steinway is missed but his spirit and passion live with me.

One interesting side note is that we were in the museum that Henry was a founding member of and served as its first president. See and hear Henry in a clip from his historical interview at the museum. Notice his extreme humility. Click here to see information about Henry Steinway on the NAMM page.

I do remember telling him as we finished that Willis would one day represent Steinway with great honor. Happily, we were able to reach that goal three years ago. Steinway and Sons is a valued partner and we look forward to representing them in this region for many years to come.

Kevin Cranley

Sheldon Cooper

Soft Kitty – Where does it come from?

Warm kitty, soft kitty, little ball of fur, Happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr! purr! purr! I trust many of you have heard this song although with slightly altered words. What I’m guessing is that almost all of you don’t know the connection with Willis Music.

Willis Music is an international music publisher in addition to the retail stores you are familiar with. We publish the most used piano course in the history of piano methods. The name of that course is John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano. It along with other books by John Thompson and many others are published all over the world and in 17 languages and counting. Since 1899 we have published over 13,000 individual titles.

In 1937 we published a book called Songs for the Nursery School and we sold tens of thousands of copies. It is a hardbound book of over 150 songs for children. The book was written by Laura Pendleton MacCarteney. In that book on page 27 is Warm Kitty.

Warner Brothers and I worked together to secure the rights for the show The Big Bang Theory and they have been using the song ever since. The writers wanted the song because one of them remembered it as a child. They also wanted to slightly change the words and I’m really not sure of the reason for that change. Here is the original and the Big Bang version.

Original:

Warm kitty, soft kitty, little ball of fur, Happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr! purr! purr!

Big Bang:

Soft kitty, Warm kitty, little ball of fur, Sleepy kitty, happy kitty, purr! purr! purr!

The storyline of the use of the song is that Sheldon Cooper’s mother used to sing the song to Sheldon as a child whenever he was sick. Over 8 episodes Sheldon has convinced various other characters to sing Warm Kitty to him when he was under the weather. I love the show and especially like hearing Warm Kitty.

The song has become so popular that you can find t-shirts, stuffed animals, hats and many other items with the words.

 

Kevin Cranley

The History of the Willis Music Company

Beginning in 1899 through today, Willis Music’s focus has always been on music education. From their internationally known educational piano catalog to one of the top retail music chains in America this focus on education has always remained. Here’s how it began…

On April 1, 1899, Charles H. Willis, a veteran of the sheet music industry, founded a small business at 41 East 4th Street in downtown Cincinnati. For the next 20 years Mr. Willis and his son William grew the business through hard work and a keen focus on the needs of music educators. During that time the company acquired several music publishers such as The John Church Company and George B. Jennings and Company. In 1919, Gustave Schirmer bought the Willis Music Company, making it a branch of G. Schirmer of Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1923 John J. Cranley, a fiery, redheaded Irishman from the Boston Music Company, became general manager of the Willis subsidiary. John began as a stockboy at Boston Music and now was leading Willis Music with his hard work and love for the music business. He turned this small organization into a major corporation in very quick order. Little by little, he acquired more than 50% ownership in the company through stock options and then purchased all the remaining stock. John continued running Boston Music, Schirmer Music and Willis Music. Under his leadership, Willis Music became “The Publisher” for teaching methods and solo pieces. The John Thompson method, “Modern Course for the Piano” was added to the catalog in 1936 and quickly became, and still is today, the most widely used piano method in the world, published in 17 languages. He then added names like Edna Mae Burnam and her prolific “Dozen a Day” series as well as William Gillock.

John’s son, Edward, became president of the Willis Music Company in 1965. Like his father he grew up in the business at Boston Music. After serving in the Navy during WWII and Korea he moved his Family to Cincinnati to join Willis in 1955. He worked all departments, sharing his Dad’s enthusiasm while continuing the success and growth of the organization. In 1969 the Company’s headquarters and publishing operation moved to Florence, Kentucky.

After graduating from Xavier University in 1980, Kevin Cranley, Ed’s son, joined the company full time. In 1990, Kevin succeeded his father as President and continues in that role today. Kevin also served as the Chairman of NAMM, the industry’s International Trade Association from 2011-2013.

In the past 10 years Willis has gone through tremendous positive change. In 2005 Willis partnered with the Hal Leonard Corporation who now handles product development, production and distribution for the Willis catalog in the Americas and beyond. Hal Leonard provides an unmatched stable of popular songs and talent that have enhanced the iconic Willis Piano Methods.


In 2012 Willis became the exclusive representative for Steinway and Sons Pianos in the Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Dayton markets. Willis services university music departments, local symphonies and music enthusiasts with the world’s finest pianos.

With the 2013 acquisition of Moeller Music, Willis strengthened its commitment and dedication to school music programs in all markets. At the same time Willis began representing the renowned Yamaha Band and Orchestra line of instruments.

Today Willis Music stores provide everything musicians of all levels need and desire. With performance spaces in several stores Willis is frequently the venue for beginners, rising stars and Steinway Artists.

Cick here to read what else happened the day of our inception!

Kevin Cranley

An Insider’s Account of This Year’s NAMM Show

winter namm 2015I just attended my 35th January NAMM show. Yes, my first one was at 21 years old. For those of you who are unaware of NAMM, it’s the trade association of the $17 billion dollar music products industry. NAMM began in 1901 making it 2 years younger than Willis Music.

Our yearly pilgrimage to NAMM is always a welcome retreat from our cold winters. We go to sunny Anaheim and this year the weather was fantastic. I travel with 3 buyers from Willis (Paul, Bill and Mike) and my wife Debbi. Our buyers spend most of their time visiting vendors like Yamaha, Fender, Steinway, Hal Leonard and hundreds more; placing orders and learning about new products. My time at NAMM is involved with meetings with some of our larger vendors along with meetings with each of our foreign sub-publishers. As many of you know Willis owns a catalog of educational piano music with names like John Thompson, Edna Mae Burnam and William Gillock. Those publications and more are in great demand in other countries so I use the NAMM show to meet with our partners representing the countries of Japan, China, England, Australia, South Africa and other parts of Europe. In some cases working with translators which I always find interesting. Our John Thompson Piano Course is now printed in 17 languages.

That’s a bit about our main jobs at the show but there is much more. For me, the show is a reunion of some of my best friends. I was fortunate to be asked to serve on the executive committee of NAMM for 8 years which ended in 2013. My final 2 years I was the Chairman of NAMM and traveled around the world meeting so many great people. I love reconnecting with all of them each year at the NAMM show. In a later edition I’ll write about some of our most memorable experiences during that time. For me, this year’s highlight was the annual Yamaha concert. They hold a concert every other year or so in DisneyLand at the Hyperion Theater. The artists are unbelievable. This year’s highlight for Debbi and me was Jamie Cullum. If you don’t know Jamie, do yourself a favor and check him out. Also performing were The Piano Guys, James Blunt, Jonathan Butler, Bob James, Colbie Caillat, Nathan East and others. The MC was Sinbad and he was a riot. The show was 3 1/2 hours long and was amazing. Jonathan Butler was the surprise for us; such an amazing voice. And Colbie Caillat has such a clear distinctive voice, she was really good too.

One last thing, check out this video of The Piano Guys at a retirement home. Watch the change in the residents as the Piano Guys perform, it’s amazing. The benefits of music in action.

Paul (one of the Willis buyers) attended a concert put on by Vandoren called VandoJam. Several Grammy winning Jazz artists really killed it. It featured Paquito D’Rivera, Eric Marienthal, and Jerry Vivino, with special guests Felix Peikli and Farnell Newton. That is one of the most exciting things about the show. Artists are everywhere and each company tries to provide the best performances you will ever hear. You can be walking the halls and see Jason Mraz, John Mayer or even Stevie Wonder. I was fortunate enough to meet Stevie last year. I remember one year when Stevie Wonder just started playing in the Yamaha booth; not planned… just spontaneous artistry at it’s best.

Make today a musical day.

Kevin Cranley

Kevin Cranley Meets Senator at NAMM Fly-In

Willis Music President meets with Senator Mitch McConnell as part of NAMM Fly-In

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – On March 26-28, Willis Music President and Owner, Kevin Cranley, took part in the NAMM Fly-In 2013 in Washington, D.C., and met with Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell. NAMM, or the National Association of Music Merchants, organizes the annual Advocacy Fly-In on behalf of school music education programs in public schools, to promote the benefits that playing music can have for children and teens, and to assure that federal education policy and funding advance access to music learning for all children. Approximately 30 members of NAMM met with various members of the U.S. Congress and Senate.

Cranley, who was elected among 9,000 members and is currently serving a 2-year-term as NAMM Chairman, was joined by artists Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bernie Williams, former NY Yankee and Latin Grammy-nominated jazz guitarist – both of whom are strong advocates of music education.

This is the first time that Cranley was able to meet with Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell.

“This was the first time I met Senator McConnell and I was most impressed with his insight into our concerns and his willingness to support music and the arts as we move forward,” said Cranley. “I expressed the need for Congress to work together to reauthorize the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) formally called ‘No Child Left Behind’. It has been 6 years since it has been scheduled for re-authorized.

Cranley left the meeting feeling very hopeful and positive about his discussion with the senator.

“I have been going to Washington each year for several years now and this was the first time I walked away with hope that re-authorization can happen. I do not know what is causing this renewed energy, but our entire group felt an improved atmosphere concerning compromise and progress. Hopefully we will now see results,” he said.

In addition, Cranley feels that the re-authorization also needs to add clarity concerning how funds can be used.

“Federal funds as spelled out in Titles 1 and 2 can be used at the discretion of local districts as they determine how to best educate their students,” he explained. “However, there is a misconception that these funds cannot be used for music and the arts. That is simply not true and needs to be clarified in the re-authorization.”

According to a Harris Poll, school principals report higher graduation rates in schools with robust music and art programs than do those without programs (90.2% as compared to 72.9%). In addition, those that rate their programs as “excellent” or “very good” have an even higher graduation rate (90.9%). Schools that have music programs have significantly higher attendance rates than do those without programs (93.3% as compared to 84.9%).

NAMM’s annual Advocacy Fly-In gives NAMM Members the opportunity to advocate to their Members of Congress for policy and funding to support music and arts education. This advocacy effort includes one day of preparation at the Kennedy Center and another day of personal meetings with representatives and other influencers. Sessions are preceded by an issues briefing and training, after which NAMM Members hit the halls of the U.S. Capitol and Congressional office buildings to lobby their representatives about the importance of music education and needed changes to assure access for music learning. During the trip NAMM Members are also trained on developing state-level advocacy efforts for music and arts education that they can take back to their communities in time for school budget season.

About NAMM
The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) is the not-for-profit association with a mission to strengthen the $17 billion music products industry and promote the pleasures and benefits of making music. NAMM’s activities and programs are designed to promote music making to people of all ages. NAMM is comprised of approximately 9,000 Member companies located in more than 87 countries. For more information about NAMM or the proven benefits of making music, interested parties can visit www.namm.org, call 800.767.NAMM (6266).

About Willis Music
The Willis Music Company was founded in 1899. We are the one-stop shop for all things musical. Willis Music is the premier publisher of teaching methods, including John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano – the most widely used piano methods in the world. The Willis Music publishing catalog contains more than 5,000 titles. There are currently six locations in Cincinnati and Kentucky. Willis Music is also the regional representative for Steinway & Sons pianos in Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Dayton. For more information, visit www.willismusic.com or call 859-283-2050.

This Press Release is from the desk of Christy Schutte, Public Relations Manager – Willis Music Company.

Steinway & Sons and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

– CINCINNATI, OH – Please join Cincinnati’s Willis Music and Steinway & Sons for Wine & Cheese at our Steinway Music Gallery on Sunday, Jan. 13 from 2 p.m. – 7 p.m. The event is a fundraiser for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. A portion of the proceeds from any Steinway, Boston and Essex purchased will go to the CSO.

Meet Ron Losby, President of Steinway & Sons; Steinway Representative Dan Onnen; Willis Music President Kevin Cranley and his wife Debbi; and our Willis Music staff and Steinway Piano Selection Specialists.

Our Steinway Music Gallery is located in our Kenwood location at 8118 Kenwood Rd. in the Kenwood Galleria (near Half Price Books). For more information please call Robert Falcon, Store Manager, at 513-252-0445 or go to www.steinwaycincinnati.com.

Kevin Cranley, NAMM Chairman & Willis Music President, in Russia for new Trade Show

Inaugural NAMM Musikmesse Russia Show

NAMM [joined] Messe Frankfurt, producers of Musikmesse and Music China, to co-produce two new trade shows in Russia. Both organizations are working to grow new markets and encourage professional development and music education in the region.

The new shows, NAMM Musikmesse Russia and Prolight + Sound NAMM Russia, [took] place in Moscow’s Expo Centre May 16–19, 2012. NAMM Musikmesse Russia [focused] on the musical instrument sector, while the Prolight + Sound NAMM show concurrently [represented] pro audio, lighting and event technology.”

Kevin Cranley talks about his experience…

Kevin: “I had the opportunity to present at the NAMM Musikmesse Russia Show. Working with a translator provides a unique challenge to presenting but the translator was great and the audience was responsive.  This was the first year that the convention was in Moscow and the attendance exceeded our targets.  I look forward to attending and presenting in Moscow again next year.”

Kevin: “Here I am with some of the NAMM team (From left to right: Kevin, Dominique, Joe, Betty and Dan) on the Moskva River.  The City of Moscow was named after the river. Directly across from the river is Gorky Park, which was made famous in the US by the 1983 movie based on the novel of the same name.  As you might be able to tell from this picture, the weather was great and unusually warm for mid May; it was in the mid 80’s.  ”

Kevin: “…In front of the ‘Russian White House’, of course that’s not the real name but it is what the people we spoke to call it.  The english translation of the name of the building is, ‘House of the Government of the Russian Federation.’ It can also be the home of the Russian President, who can choose there or the Kremlin to live.  The building sits on the Krasnopresnenskaya embankment on the Moskva River.  Here I am with Joe, NAMM President and Betty, NAMM Director of International Affairs.”

For more information about this show, click HERE

For more information about NAMM, click HERE

For more information about Willis Music, click HERE