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A Passion for Piano

Person with long wavy hair pulled back from face plays concert piano with musicians playing stringed instruments in background
A new endowed chair brings opportunities to transform piano instruction. Photo by Brian Runt

In any season, the art of music is an essential expression of humanity. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, it provided special comfort and connection for countless people in physical isolation.

In a Key of Generosity

Among those touched were UCLA alumni and longtime supporters Shirley Shapiro ’59 and Ralph Shapiro ’53, JD ’58, who turned their passion for musical performances into purposeful philanthropy. Inspired by Shirley’s love of the piano, the family gave $1 million to endow the Shapiro Family Chair in Piano Performance at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

“Over the years, we have been proud to partner with UCLA to make a tangible difference in numerous areas,” Shirley Shapiro says. “While we remained home during the pandemic, we were able to continue viewing music performances virtually—and that lifeline became the motivation for recognizing the school’s brilliant piano faculty.”

The gift adds to the Shapiros’ extensive philanthropic legacy at UCLA, which includes more than 20 endowed chairs across campus.

“I felt an instant connection with Shirley and Ralph when I met them. We share a great love of music, and I have been incredibly grateful for their previous generous support,” says Eileen Strempel, inaugural dean of the school of music. “When Ralph told me they wanted to establish this chair, I immediately understood the impact and progress this would make possible for our piano area.”

Playing It Forward

Pianist and assistant professor David Kaplan ’05 is the first person to hold the Shapiro Family Chair in Piano. He boasts his own Bruin background, having studied piano performance at UCLA as an undergraduate. He joined the faculty at the newly formed school of music in 2016.

“I’m deeply honored to serve as the inaugural chairholder,” says Kaplan. “I wouldn’t be the artist, person, and teacher I am today without this school, so I’m thrilled that the Shapiros’ generosity is going to serve many future generations of UCLA piano students.”

Kaplan envisions a range of teaching and research activities to be made possible by the chair, from acquiring and maintaining world-class instruments to bringing musical leaders to campus for master classes and performances to creating scholarship and award opportunities that help lower barriers to education for talented, hard-working students.

With the Shapiros’ support, UCLA’s piano faculty, students, and alumni will continue performing music that is dear to them—and to so many others around the world.

To learn more, contact

Liz Vohwinkel(310) 206-5645

Published June 2022

More Stories: Arts & culture, Faculty, Students, Herb Alpert School of Music, Students & campus