October 04, 2023

By Logan Sweet ’15

Pictured are Naomi Niskala, associate professor of music, seated at piano; Emily Erdman '25, left; and Andrew Dirienzo '25, right. Pictured are Naomi Niskala, associate professor of music, seated; Emily Erdman ’25, left; and Andrew Dirienzo ’25.A beautiful Baldwin grand piano will be played by Susquehanna University musicians for generations to come, thanks to a legacy gift made by David A. ’62 and Sally McKalip ’63 Lisi.

Sally graduated from Susquehanna with a degree in music education and supervision. As a student, she studied piano under the tutelage of Galen Deibler and performed in the university’s symphonic band. After graduating, she taught music for the Halifax Area School District.

The Lisis purchased the six-foot Baldwin grand piano in 1976, and it has resided in their home ever since. With anticipated plans for her piano’s future not coming to fruition, Sally believed that Susquehanna’s students would be the best to benefit from it.

“I want my piano to go to a home that will be loving and protective of it and allow it to be played daily by all levels of expertise,” Sally said. “I know that Susquehanna will be just the place for that.”

While Sally’s piano will not officially move to Susquehanna until after her bequest has been realized, students have already had an opportunity to perform with it.

After learning of Sally’s wish to hear her “baby” played by Susquehanna students, Naomi Niskala, associate professor of music, arranged a visit to Sally and David’s home with Andrew Dirienzo ’25, a music education major, and Emily Erdman ’25, a music performance major — both of whom are accomplished pianists. During an intimate recital also attended by several of Sally’s former music students, family, friends and loved ones, Niskala, Dirienzo and Erdman performed a selection of works by Bach, Chopin, Ginastera, Brahms and Gershwin.

“The piano sounded wonderful,” said Niskala. “Sally was clearly moved as Andrew and Emily helped her piano come to life, and I am so honored that I could be a part of that.”

“Like people, each piano has a different story to tell as no two pianos are the same,” said Erdman. “You must be able to read a piano and understand how it speaks for your music to have an impact on your audience.

“To play a recital for someone who understands the language you’re speaking — that language being music — is profoundly moving,” she added. “There is nothing more memorable than to show your thanks through an unspoken conversation when you know how important it is to that person.”

The piano represents more than a gift; it represents the symbiotic relationship between mentors and their students.

“Knowing the impact that Sally has had on generations of students only added to the magic of playing for her,” said Dirienzo.

“Sally’s only wish is that her piano continues to be played, and I can assure her that it will be used extensively by our students and other musicians,” Niskala added. “We will be so grateful to add such a beautiful instrument — and one so lovingly well cared for — to the Department of Music’s practice and performance spaces.”

Learn more about Susquehanna’s Department of Music.