Willis Music Comes to Rotary

by Pat Moynahan on April 5, 2017

willisFlorence, Ky. – Need to rent a musical instrument because your child wants to try out for the high school band?

Willis Music will rent you the instrument at reasonable cost, repair it and replace it if lost.

What about sheet music and lessons? Willis publishes a huge music catalog and arranges lessons at three locations in Ohio, one in Florence and one in Lexington.

Accomplished musician looking for that dream piano? You can find a Steinway at Willis Music.

Most people know of Willis Music through its support of high school band musicians, and service to schools remains “the most profitable part of the industry,” Willis president Kevin Cranley told members of the Florence Rotary Club. However, the Florence-based company also is a leading publisher of music education materials worldwide and the exclusive representative for Steinway & Sons for Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio.

Cranley sketched Willis Music’s history and strategies for the future at a meeting of the Florence Rotary Club on Monday, March 27. The 117-year-old, family-owned company now is divided into two divisions, he said. Five stores (including four in Greater Cincinnati) that sell everything from sheet music to instruments comprises one division. Music publishing forms the other.

The retail stores sell intermediate ad professional instruments and accessories. They rent instruments for band and orchestra, and the rental payments can apply to purchase. The stores connect people seeking private lessons with local music teachers, and offer space for recitals and for artists to perform.

Publishing also is big part of the business. Cranley’s grandfather became general manager in 1923 and quickly turned Willis Music into “the largest music education publisher in the world,” Cranley said.

The publishing arm, now licensed to another company, provides materials for music lessons in 17 countries, according to Cranley. Among the titles in the catalog are the John Thompson lesson books, including a longstanding favorite, “Modern Course for Piano.”

Cranley joined forces with Steinway & Sons four years ago. He said Willis Music only considered Steinway and Yamaha partnerships because of the quality of their pianos. He said he was amazed at the precision of workmanship – down to the acoustical quality of the wood – when he toured the Steinway production facilities.

“Each piano has its own tone and play,” he said. “Everything is hand-made. That’s why they’re different from any other piano in the world. Each is a factory original.”

Willis Music also formed a partnership with Yamaha in Lexington in 2016, Cranley said.