Archive for October, 2011

Brahms Rhapsody in Eb Major Op.119 No.4

I once watched a suspenseful movie… can’t even remember the title. Very interesting concept (bear with me) where these kidnappers would take high profile people, drug them. When they came to they were in some sort of maze with a map of the maze in hand only the map didn’t lead to a way out. It made people delirious to the point of confusion and exhaustion. After a week they were then drugged and put back into society. Bizarre concept, i know but here’s where it got interesting- when this group of kidnappers wanted to “take out” one of their victims, they would simply show this person the same maze map and (in the movie), they would die of heart failure at the thought of the extreme conditions they were in.
Why do i tell you all that? Well… i had a similar incident happen with my mother. Y’see… back when i was 17, i had a very short time to prepare a Brahms rhapsody for a piano competition – 2 weeks to be exact. “Attainable” i thought…”i just need to practice upwards of 5 hours per day for the next two weeks”. Hmmmm doing full-time highschool, i calculated that i could do 2 hours before breakfast, 1 after school and 2 in the evenings. The clock struck 6AM and i started into this song. For those of you who may not know the piece… here it is:
[youtube width=”318″ height=”258″][/youtube]


Well… that song at 6AM led to my Mum coming down the stairs in her nightgown. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?” she asked. “Why yes it’s 6AM… Mum i only have 2 weeks of this”. So (hahaaaaa) for the next two weeks my Mum bolted outta bed every morning at the sound of this. It became the standing joke in the house… kinda like the movie, if i ever wanted to raise her blood pressure, i only needed to play the first line and she would come racing down the stairs, rolling pin in hand… hahaaa ohhhh the power… lol. Just want to remind her that i DID win the competition ūüėõ

Art Case Pianos – Part 2 – The Classics

In part one of this series we looked at the very FIRST art case made by Steinway.¬† Oh sure there have been many MANY other manufacturers before and after 1856.¬† That was just a small story introducing the concept of “art case” – if you weren’t familiar with the term.¬† Now we’re going to look at a few examples of modern art case pianos.¬† To begin with, i thot i’d introduce a recent photo of a piano named Grotrian – high end, beautiful and such a classic art case.¬† To me an art case is all about proportions – note how the cabriole legs (double curved 18th century type) give a certain elegance to the design. The music rack is embellished with scroll work. Repeated again under the keyboard. Even the side rims are notched and accented with motifs. Though i prefer satin art case instruments, this one has been high polished. In England, they’re called ‘bright’ finishes. Check out these other examples of art case: a few vintage Steinways – one with ornate carvings, the other with detailed inlays. While some would call these garish, if you’re a woodworker of any kind, you’ll appreciate if nothing else, the labour that went into the meticulous detail.


And finally, some modern day examples of art case – Bosendorfer designed by Audi. Steinway’s year 2000 “Rhapsody in Blue” limited edition (commemorating George Gershwin). And one of my all time favorites, Schimmel’s Pegasus. Click on the picture to see the enlarged photos.

Art Case Pianos – Part 1 Steinway #1225

A friend of mine (who will remain nameless) is a bit of a legend in the piano industry.¬† One day we started talking Steinway and he asked if he ever told me about “Twelve Twenty-Five”.¬† “1225? What’s that?”¬† He proceeded to tell me about this piano that is the oldest known “Art Case” Steinway ever found.¬† He and a business partner bought it! (before it entered into Steinway museum).¬† Here it is if you want to take a look. So art case refers to anything aside from standard traditional looking grand piano. “Traditional” means straight legs, no frills cabinet in either black, walnut or mahogany. “Art case” refers to paintings, carvings, fancy legs, scroll work, inlays, exotic woods and recognized designers.
But let me first continue with the 1225 story. So… apparently (as legends take on a life¬†of their own…) this piano was part of an estate. But here is where it gets tricky because the piano didn’t say STEINWAY anywhere on it. Well… how do you know if you have a Steinway if it doesn’t have those letters anywhere on the cabinet? There were only 2 clues: One was that the music rack was carved with the same pattern as Steinway. The second clue¬†was that the designer was definitively the same designer Steinway had used in later projects. On a gamble, these two men bought the Steinway… or what they THOUGHT was a Steinway. Some time later an entourage came from¬†the factory¬†to authenticate the piano and… sure enough it is the oldest art case piano presently in existence from Steinway & Sons. By the way… 1225 is the serial number of the piano dating it to 1856.


Piano Manufacturing Today… Is It All a Numbers Game?


Ok so there’s some homework attached to today’s post – it’s a TED talk -if you haven’t yet seen TED tv you should… FABULOUS encouraging and often humorous talks to feed the soul.¬† Anyway, i watched this post some time ago about a guy building a toaster from scratch.¬† Click on it (above). So it’s about a guy who decides he wants to build a toaster, gather the necessary components of iron, copper, mica and plastic to form his toaster.¬† ANYWAY… the reason i mention this is because¬†i¬†once¬†thought to myself… “i wonder how i would go about building a piano from scratch”.¬† Think about the cast iron frame alone – let alone the grand rim, the pressure fit soundboard, the 3000+ action parts, the strings, the hammers… The piano manufacturing process is the evolution of about 200 years of tinkering and design to the point where we have it today.¬† Seguay.

I had the privilege of speaking with the CEO of Pearl River/Ritmuller piano company this year.¬† He said that they have about¬†1.3 MILLION… that’s capital M as in Million square feet of manufacturing space (2.8 million of land!)¬† Annual productions run nearly 100,000 pianos.¬† So… think realistically about the fact that it might take many months to produce one mediocre piano by yourself.¬† Pearl River is putting out – completed pianos 800 PER DAY.¬† 800 completed, tuned, regulated, finished, polished pianos PER DAY.¬† Now this brings about one other point – Productivity necessitates efficiency.¬† Did you catch that? The more you create of one product, the more efficient the manufacturing becomes.¬† If i made one piano, it might take me a few years.¬† Two pianos… let’s just double up every stage of the manufacturing and build twos of everything.¬† Thirty per year, you need a small team to accomplish this.¬† (Approximate numbers) 450 per year – as in Bosendorfer – roughly 37 per month… that takes some thought as to efficiency.¬† Steinway – around 5000 pianos – 400 per month.¬† See where this is going? Now when you get to 90,000-100,000 pianos annually you have two options.¬† You hire an incredibly large work force of people with many inconsistencies or you did what Pearl River did and bring in VERY expensive machines to streamline the process.¬† This is where my radar perks up.¬† If you can maintain and supply for consistent sales at nearly 100,000 instruments annually, then by reason, should not their refinement in manufacturing tolerances also become very acute? Productivity lends itself to efficiency because you CANNOT manufacture that many pianos without being consistent time and again.¬† Before you have the audacity to wipe off a brand of pianos without thinking through what it is they accomplish in a year, better make sure you know that of which you speak.¬† At 100,000 pianos a year, 800 per day, they’ve hired some of the best in designers in the world (Lothar Thomma).¬† At a staff of nearly 4000 employees, this piano company will soon be (if not already) one of the largest forces in piano manufacturing the world has ever known.¬† If that were not enough, Pearl River/Ritmuller is one of (i believe) only 2 piano companies in China to receive the highly accredited ISO (International Organization for Standardization) stamp of approval.¬† Check out the promo video below… now THAT’S impressive!



How Xbox Helped My Piano Practice

Long before Nintendo, before the days of Sony, before Sega, Collecovision… my dad had invented the Xbox. No seriously. He’s now 86 years of age and well… truth be told he showed me his first Xbox when i was about 5 years of age. Early 70’s… he was WAY ahead of his time… only this “X” box was a chart. OK pictured is the ACTUAL chart from when i was a kid. Call him crazy but these charts are memories of accomplishments for him. Here’s how it works: each time practiced meant one X in the box. Oh THAT kind of Xbox… ya ya… you thought my Dad actually created THE Xbox? Really? Well… not the electronic one anyway. But he DID make the Xbox charts with ruler, pen and paper.

So today i present to you Xbox next generation. Click on the tab above that reads “Free Resources” and there you will find practice charts for Canada’s own technical requirements by grade. Even if you don’t work with a graded system, they are still a fabulous systematic way of working through grade level technique. And so each scale, chord or arpeggio has a row of 25 boxes to be filled in. Remember: practice makes permanent. Enjoy!

Go to Top