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DREAM PIANO: Overview and Acknowledgments

My two-year long romp on the piano finding trail with York as my professional companion and consultant had been worth all the time spent in, around and under pianos. How else would I have acquired knowledge about the piano’s harp, or cast iron plate were it not for his having the bravado to dismantle it from the Proskch 1905 grand and haul it out to the College of the Sequoia’s welding department. In the face of technicians and others who mocked him for his efforts, he persevered; soda blasted the ugly looking frame and dragged it home for a second wind. Rebecca McGregor, a victim of her impulsive sight unseen Internet piano purchase and an unprincipled seller, had written me a thought provoking e-mail after she had hovered over the plate on full view in York’s driveway. It was a funereal scene.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/funeral-for-a-cracked-plate-piano-caveat-emptor/

She wrote, “I actually learned something at York’s, and I think you captured the essence of our meeting and the somber mood. Were we paying for his having tried to mend the plate, I would have stopped him, but with York’s willingness to take it on without payment, we’d have been fools not to let him proceed.” (This was before the plate cracked in two other places as York hauled it to his pick-up truck)

Rebecca had linked hands with Terry Barrett and York’s wife in a prayer vigil over the plate and then helped to flip it on its back to survey its underbelly.

The underside of inanimate things always sparked York’s curiosity and it invariably sent him nose diving under pianos to investigate anything from mice, moths and moisture to the storage of $$$ assets in the crannies of a Kawai.

To my educational advantage, he found it necessary to drag me along on his adventures to prove without a doubt that he had the lowdown on each and very piano he tuned, moth proofed and treated for rats.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/me-york-and-our-great-piano-adventure/

And I can personally attest that his tattered, age worn diaries were evidence of his meticulous record keeping since 1948. These should someday be enshrined in the Smithsonian or at least in the PTG (Piano Technician’s Guild) Hall of Fame.

While Terry Barrett, RPT (Registered Piano Technician) argued that bridle straps had no importance in the assembly of uprights, and moths were basically harmless to pianos because they would die eating cyanide based hammer felts, York produced incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. He marched valiantly on his truth finding crusade and produced a Kimball made “Whitney” spinet without bridle straps that had a basic action defect, and he plucked a hammer from his pick-up truck that had the most perfect, moth drilled hole I had ever seen! Such was Mother Nature at work.

As an unofficial “apprentice” to the city’s senior piano tuner, I had acquired trade secrets that no piano technology school or correspondence course would ever impart. Would most “registered technicians” anywhere in the universe know to battle moths with a bottle of cloves? York was always far ahead of his time banishing moth balls from his tool box. “They cause cancer,” he said repeatedly when we stumbled upon pianos that were victims of merciless moth attacks. While I hadn’t yet seen examples of chewed up bridle straps from nest seeking rats, York had promised to phone me immediately if he had a scheduled DECON call at a church or elsewhere.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/samick-york-tofujie-and-me-on-the-piano-chasing-trail/

The master tuner without his formal “registration” in the Piano Technician’s Guild showed those who had somehow obtained it that he deserved at least the honorary title because of his decades long association with pianos. Thankfully, the local Fresno chapter honored York by giving him a podium to demonstrate piano restringing, and when he turned up at monthly PTG meetings as a devoted “associate member,” his colleagues always greeted him with a hearty slap on the back.

On the day I had shown up to interview “Laroy Edwards” retired Yamaha senior piano technician, and emissary for the company all over the world, York made his presence known by telling his full length account about the cat that had been trapped under a grand piano lid and miraculously, emerged alive and well, though hairless. York fleshed out, colorful new details each time he spun a piano related tale, though he sometimes forgot that he’d told the story one too many times.

Besides being York’s companion through our two year-long piano adventure, my having compiled these stories was a natural outcome of all the trips made to many homes containing used pianos of an infinite variety–some sold in estate sales and auctions.


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/the-great-piano-auction/


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/used-pianos-estate-sales-and-mr-york-the-tuner/

And in the course of this learning driven journey, I had hoped that readers would willingly share their own piano memorabilia since a keyboard culture may be dying on the vine if not preserved.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/is-the-piano-a-dying-breed/

The old upright stories should be written down and treasured. The genealogy of older pianos should be a relentless source of research. Piano owners should learn how to discover the age of their pianos by seeking out the serial numbers on the cast iron plate, and by consulting the Pierce Piano Atlas or the Bluebook of Pianos.com. While it’s common for piano owners to throw up their hands and say,”I know virtually nothing about my piano,” it’s time for a new attitude to replace the old. Even “Alice” was exhilarated to know more about her “player piano without a name” when I enlisted her in the fact finding adventure. While the piano had been virtually un-played for 4 years since its purchase from an antique store for $125, she quickly became my “Dr. Watson” beaming a flash light on its cast iron plate; screaming in delight when she discovered the digits that might help date it. In the case of her particular piano, supplementary information acquired from Robert Furst’s Bluebook of Pianos.com led to its more conclusive identity.

Sharing a systemic approach to the whole research undertaking with Alice, I was able to enlist a new partisan in the preservation of old pianos. In fact, she became very reluctant to part with her stately upright once I had breathed life into it as a performing pianist. But at long last, it finally found a worthy owner who had promised to take good care of it and give it a new home.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/a-player-piano-without-a-name/

Another piano, a table style Aeolian with three leaves underwent an equally intense identity crisis as its true birth date was pursued. I couldn’t thank Mr. York enough for his A-1 guesstimate and Terry Barrett for pulling the piano’s action and stumbling upon a note with the date “APR 1936” engraved in the wood. What a miraculous discovery!!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/a-table-style-piano-with-three-leaves-the-whole-story-in-lurid-detail/

DREAM PIANO had been all about the exciting adventure of pursuing and finding pianos, primarily in the private party, used piano market and how these travels of mine had changed the hearts and minds of the many piano owners that I’d encountered. Just making a routine house call to check on a piano up for sale, I’d invited myself into the lives of so my people who possessed the kindness and generosity to share their piano stories. “Ralph Cato,” whom I’d met at the Guitar Center looking for a keyboard to give his daughter for Christmas shared a heart rending story about his first piano and how he stole into the night to pick the lock and play it. Even a US Olympic Team boxing trainer with the exterior of a lion, softened up to share a tender memoir.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/cato-his-killer-keyboard-and-a-round-of-piano-lessons/

“Caroline Scheer” opened her heart to me and finally imparted the reason she wanted to sell her beloved Knight piano. This had been a mystery all along, but when the truth spilled out one day during a taped phone interview, all the puzzle pieces fit together. I had learned that her father never kept his promise to buy her a grand piano, like the one she had seen at Delaware University, if she obtained all “A’s” on her report card. How many others would want a grand size piano in their home just because they had been deprived of one early in life.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/the-little-knightingale/

In my travels, I had learned that pianos had a wide variety of meanings for different owners. For some, they were not musical instruments at all, but beautiful pieces of furniture to behold. But that might have been because the buyer or seller didn’t know where to begin in assessing the value of something that at one time had a playing life. And from the countless visits I’d made to homes with old pianos, just by playing them, they acquired a new value and meaning for their owners. Maybe there was an important message to heed. Why not bring a performing musician and piano technician to an establishment or home that housed a piano for sale. Why rely on a visual assessment of something that was meant to elicit tones, harmonics, and chords of beauty?

Perhaps the late Anne Meux, whose esteemed Fresno family had been memorialized in a landmark home preservation, experienced an awakening when her pianos came to life the afternoon I had played them. Prior to my impromptu visit, these musical treasures might well have been regarded as decorative furnishings, appreciated only for their external beauty.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/anne-meux-her-pianos-and-my-visit/

Pianos I’d encountered that were pretty but without musical value:

So many piano owners found themselves with antiques of the square or parlor grand variety that were quite ornate looking but could not play worth a dime. And when it was time to sell them, they confronted the hard reality that as play-less instruments and artifacts of the past, that no one wanted them in the present or future. So what was purchased for $5,000 some years back would sell for $200 or less in the private party marketplace. Some of these age worn and ill maintained pianos might have had to be donated out to a favorite charity. As Terry Barrett poignantly said, “An antique piano was just a different animal.”

“Sam” Torcaso, owner of Chesterfield’s in Fresno, brought it home that the older uprights were just not selling and the whole marketplace of antique pianos was abysmal. She pointed to the bleak housing situation with foreclosures abounding and the dearth of interior decorators that would be consulted to design the insides of newly acquired homes as reflecting part of the problem. But despite her registered cynicism about the universe of antique pianos, she had always known to advise her customers to bring in a technician before they made any kind of “all sales final,” piano purchase at her establishment. This recommendation showed her respect and concern for those who would buy a piano from Chesterfields and then pass it to their children to learn on.

***
More stories from Dream Piano:

FUJIE had the patience to await the arrival of her dream Kawai K 15 studio upright model piano housed at California Piano,


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/fujie-finds-her-dream-piano-but-buyer-beware/

and “Sharon Cooper” allowed me to include our clandestine tryst in the seedy parking lot beside Ag Hardware where a cash drop was made for a dream piano.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/a-high-stakes-piano-finding-adventure-or-was-it-a-sopranos-tv-episode/

Not to forget Dan Bates, who stole off and bought a Petrof piano, while in the grip of his obsession over the Steinway 1968. May the best piano win!!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/a-battle-of-two-steinways-a-yamaha-and-a-spoiler-petrof/

And who could forget the Dream Piano I fought for and won, a French Provincial Baldwin Artist Grand.
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/fighting-for-a-dream-piano-hopefully-it-should-not-come-to-this/

On the last lap of my journey, I also stumbled upon “Victor Thasia” who was the first person I had ever met who changed his mind about selling his piano, and was ready to love and cherish it forever. Thanks for sharing your epiphany!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/5007/

And what an opportunity came my way to record on a Dream Piano compliments of the Visalia Piano Gallery:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/recording-on-a-sleeper-dream-piano/</a

To “Patricia Frederick,” of the Fredericks collection in Ashburnham, Mass., and Thomas Winter, early piano restorer, San Francisco, my sincere appreciation to you for having provided scholarly words of wisdom about period pianos. What a rare opportunity came my way to play a 19th Century Dream Piano that turned up at the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/the-fritz-of-vienna-chopin-reincarnated/

And another period piece that was beautiful on the outside but proved to be a pathetic tonal disaster!


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/the-ghost-of-fritz-was-i-dreaming/

Concluding Bonus Chapter:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/dos-and-donts-for-piano-buyers-and-sellers-dream-pianos-last-chapter/

Extra: York’s World War II Musical Memoir
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/yorks-wwii-story-in-writing-and-on-video/

More People to Thank:

Terry Barrett, RPT, Fresno gave countless hours detailing pianos for me and helped me write about them from a more technical perspective. While he sometimes disagreed with York about the significance of moth damage and the value bridle straps, he contributed loads of piano related information that enhanced my stories and also assisted sellers in learning more about their pianos.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge all those piano students who gave me my first opportunity to help them find their first real, 88 note, playing pianos. “Michelle” now happily practices on a lovely Baldwin, 1970’s console that had its first tuning, and tweaking by YORK, and my youngest pupil, “Claudia” enjoys her resonating Yamaha studio upright 1992 that I found in the former, Old Hilton Hotel in Fresno where a salvaging company was selling it. I remember how I had managed to get there just at the right time before word got out that two practically new pianos were accumulating dust in a second floor banquet room. Oddly, the Yamaha sat for too long after it was purchased and couldn’t get down the elevator to the ground floor until inspections were made and certification papers filed with the County. In the end, when the piano descended to the first floor level for transport, it was shipped gratis to the base of steps leading to the new owner’s second floor apartment. That’s when a challenge arose! “Elaine,” Claudia’s mother could either pay a whopping $400 to move the piano up two flights of stairs or enlist the help of able bodied neighbors. I wish I could have been there to see how they managed to turn the corner on the landings and push the 700 plus pound piano into the apartment. It must have been quite a sight to behold!

Some piano owners had been luckier than others in moving their pianos. York had told me that the Salvaging company owner, who sold Elaine the Yamaha, tipped over a Kawai piano while he was steering it into another banquet room. “The whole thing just came crashin’ down all at once,” he said. I had dispatched him to give the Yamaha a once over appraisal before it was purchased, and according to YORK, “it passed with flyin’ colors.” While he was at the hotel, he happened to look at the action assembly of the neighboring Kawai console and discovered that the hammers were over-sized and not fitting right. York always knew his stuff when it came to pianos and their interiors. He was also an ace evaluator of piano finishes and could rub the tips of his thickly padded fingers against the grain and ascertain what percentage was veneer.

The old man had done just about everything where it came to pianos. He tuned, repaired, refinished, and moved them. He was quite the master of all trades and he allowed me a share of his knowledge under careful supervision!

Finally, thank you to those who might not have gotten into the pages of this book but who added to my knowledge about pianos of all shapes, sizes, and vintage. I am beholden to “Martin Sigley,” a brilliant player piano restorer who loves what he does like a poet who crafts every word as a jewel. I was so impressed by his little shop that housed an old Behr Player and an “Angelus Orchestral,” and how intensely he worked. The world should regard him as a heaven sent angel. In a universe that values big cars, and expansive, designer homes, there is sadly little room to think about old world type restorers who will someday vanish without the appreciation they deserved in life.

In conclusion, a warm and grateful hug for my 96 year old mother, Jessie Taft Smith who sat relentlessly on the phone in the wee hours of the morning and listened to each Dream Piano chapter as it unfolded and voiced hard fought criticism that drove some periodic changes in my writing. I couldn’t have done it without her.

PS Additional acknowledgments: Peter Wolf, recording engineer, Wolf Sound, Fresno, CA
Bill Sayre, owner, Fasttraxx recording studio, Fresno, CA Heyner Oviedo, Fresno Piano,
The late Anne Meux, Fresno, CA

arpeggios, Beethoven, Chopin, Chopin Etude, El Cerrito, El Cerrito California, Fresno, Fresno California, keyboard technique, Lillian Freundlich, Mozart, Mozart sonata in C K545, MTAC, Murray Perahia, music, music history, musicology, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Peabody Conservatory, pianist, piano, piano auction, piano finding, piano finding adventure, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano pedagogy, piano room, piano scales, piano society, Piano Street, piano student, piano teacher, Piano World, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, scales, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, sports, Steinway and Sons, Steinway console, Steinway grand piano, Steinway M grand piano, Steinway piano, Steinway studio upright, talkclassical.com, Teach Street, technique, trills, Uncategorized, used piano, used pianos, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Piano Lesson: An advanced adult Student plays Chopin Etude Op. 25, No. 9

We are practicing behind tempo because the student began studying this Chopin Etude Op. 25 No. 9 about two months ago.

“Joy” took piano lessons as a child and young adult, and then had a period without instruction. She started studying with me almost three years ago, and in that time we have explored advanced repertoire: Schubert Impromptus, Op. 90, no.2 in Eb and no. 4 in Gb Major, Chopin Waltz in C# minor, Beethoven Sonata Pathetique in C minor and Sonata in C# minor (“Moonlight” all 3 movements) among other compositions.

Joy is a joy to work with and learn from. About 18 months ago, she acquired a used GE-1 Kawai grand  that has a lovely personality–very resonant in all ranges, and with a strong, defined  bass. Its only drawback is its stiff, heavy action, though the resistance has helped Joy improve her technique.

Baroque music, classical music, Domenico Scarlatti, essercizi, Irwin Freundlich, Juilliard, Kun-Woo Paik, Lillian Freundlich, Murray Perahia, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Peabody Conservatory, pianist, piano, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano pedagogoy, piano student, piano teacher, piano technique, pianoaddict.com, Scarlatti, Shirley Kirsten, Steinway piano, Theory, Uncategorized, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Music, life, and memories (Video)

I’m in a Scarlatti phase of music making that hearkens back to my days as a student at the New York City High School of Performing Arts (“Fame I wanna live forever”) when I was studying with Lillian Freundlich at her townhouse off Riverside Drive. The sonata I posted above, was her first musical recommendation to me. She insisted that I purchase the Friskin edition, and start by learning one of the effervescent essercizi in G Major, L. 387.  (K. 14) The rest is history as decades later, I recorded 28 of them for two cd albums.

My lessons with Mrs. Freundlich were an eternal awakening. She would sing over my playing, prod me to shape musical phrases, and encourage my search for oneness with the instrument. Before I met Lillian, I always knew what I wanted to hear inside of me, but, frustrated by technical barriers, I couldn’t play many notes without feeling tight and fatigued. The music I produced was boxed in, wanting desperately to flower.

As fate would have it, my studies with Lillian were all too short. Within two years I was bound for the Oberlin Conservatory, where I felt boxed in again. Practice rooms were stacked high, and Performance Majors seemed assembly line processed. I missed the West Side townhouse, and my lessons in an enormous living room with a cathedral ceiling and the love of music permeating every bit of space.

For the four years I was away at Oberlin, I yearned to return to a welcoming environment that made music spiritual. It was very frustrating to hear my pieces echoed through the walls of conservatory practice rooms. And even more disconcerting to sit through eons of student recitals, where attendance was mandatory. All over again my repertoire was regurgitated to the exponential, and not with the freedom of musical expression that would appeal to me.  Mechanical players abounded, who were happy to get through a composition with the right notes.

Lil’s living room haunted me night and day. It held a gorgeous Mason and Hamlin grand beside a Steinway. And upstairs, there was still another Steinway grand that was used when both Lillian and her husband were teaching private students. Irwin, was at the time Chair of the Piano Department at Juilliard and he had a fine reputation for nursing some very talented performers along. One, named Joseph Schwartz, became a faculty member at Oberlin during the years I attended. What a coincidence to meet him there!

Freundlich’s Sanctuary:

Like it was yesterday, I remember seeing my reflection in a big decorative mirror overshadowing a florid mahogany table that displayed programs of students like Stephen Manes, who were making their Carnegie Recital Hall debuts. They were wide eyed, young musicians, who wanted to make performing their life’s work, and their launch was special to the Freundlichs who made their home a concert hall.

I remember how excited I was to be invited to hear Stephen play, in the midst of so many older Juilliard students. I had just started with Lillian, and felt at the time like a beginner who needed lots of training and encouragement. I would dream that some day I might have a glossy photo attached to a brochure about my forthcoming public concert. That would surely mean, I had arrived.

Christina Petrovsky, one of my classmates at the High School of Performing Arts, just happened to be a student of Irwin, and turned up at one of the Hauskonzerts. She had come down from Canada to study piano.

Performing Arts High or “P.A.” as it was commonly called, was a home to a number of well known musicians, dancers, and actors. Murray Perahia, was a year ahead of me, and was probably the most pervasive musical influence of my life, besides Lillian Freundlich.

He had such a big presence at our high school that I can’t think of my years there, without his name inscribed in my memory forever.

Murray would be invited to play a Continuo part (bass) at the piano as we sat in the orchestra playing a Corelli Concerto Grosso. Since I had been studying violin along with piano, I was embedded in the ensemble drawing long bows, listening attentively to what Murray was doing over at the grand.

Perahia’s continuo just dominated the whole musical experience. He drew a gorgeous tone from the piano, and from my perspective, I saw him turn red in the face with each sonorous bass note.

Other memorable performances were his Beethoven second piano concerto, Chopin E minor,  and Mendelssohn trio in D minor. His chamber music was particularly divine. He drew a crowd of students when he decided to stay after school and read through some scores. During one afternoon, he played a Brahms symphony  accounting for every instrument, and its transposition. I was just bowled over with amazement.

I will always remember the day he ascended the podium to conduct our school orchestra. Perahia was one of a handful of students taking conducting classes with Julius Grossman, our chamber music director and he was scheduled to have his performance exam.

Until Perahia took the baton, most of us were playing as if we suffered with anemia. There was very little spark, and we were ragged out from our long commute to school very early in the morning, compounded by the volume of music and academic classes. These included Sight-singing and Dictation; Music Theory, Music History, Applied Study, Geometry, English, Science, American History, and Economics.

Perahia tweaked our energy levels in no time. He conducted a late Haydn Symphony, and drew every last drop of blood out of us in pursuit of beauty.  We never sounded better as we were drawn out of our malaise.  But then it was back to the mundane and our normal class schedules.

To be truthful, the emphasis at “P.A.” the “Fame” School,  was not on academics, and some students like myself, were ostracized for excelling in English or Math. One afternoon, my books were stolen after I aced an exam that most students failed. It was not my happiest time of life, though the school had wonderful teachers like Shirley Katz and Florence Schwager (Math) as well as Madame Gregg and Stone, (French) who encouraged me along.

The best part of “P.A.” was being in proximity to Perahia, and some other outstanding musicians such as Gerard Schwarz, Ellen Zoe Hassman, Kun-Woo Paik, and Marian Heller. These students were awe inspiring, along with other classmates and faculty members in the Drama and Dance Department: Robin Strasser, Bel Kaufman, and Norman Walker.

Now that I am years removed from Performing Arts High School as well as the Oberlin Conservatory, I still live and breathe music. Picking up a Scarlatti score just now, and recording sonatas that Lillian assigned me as a fledgling rekindles memories that are drawn from a diverse, rich and uncommonly fascinating life.

Post script: I discovered these tributes to my beloved teacher, the late, Lillian Freundlich, at a Peabody Conservatory Internet site:

http://www.peabody.jhu.edu/3817