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Piano Technique: Playing with bigger energies beyond the fingers

Practicing a programmatic miniature from Kabalevsy’s Op. 39 Children’s Pieces can draw on energies well beyond the fingers.

“Funny Event” is a good example with its series of sound bursts on the first beat of each measure. If a student takes the pecking approach, typing away at the keyboard, one note at a time, his self-limited pursuit will be at the expense of capturing the “feel” of a robust staccato dialog between the hands.

In the video below, I demonstrate how my own practicing routines helped me clarify ways to realize the shape of a redundant, highly charged motif that is both playful and bundled with joy.

Kabalevsky Funny Event

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Piano teachers, students, and reluctant farewells

  Lillian Freundlich


For many piano teachers who’ve nursed along students from Primer toddlerhood to an Intermediate level confidence-climbing phase, through to the Advanced, smooth riding finish with flashy fingers, the pupil’s farewell is an emotional event.

Of course, it depends on the circumstances of the departure and who is saying goodbye to whom.

I remember my heart-wrenching farewells to two private music teachers going back a few decades. My mother as proxy delivered the news first to my violin teacher who taught me with great passion but missed too many lessons to make music study meaningful. Frustrated by her absences, starts and stops, the only way I dealt with my anger, was to channel my sturm and drang (storm and stress) into the piano. But at this very time, my piano teacher who had been referred by the violin instructor, was giving me pieces so way over my head that I could barely come up for air. While I knew what a composition such as Chopin’s Bb minor Scherzo should sound like, I had no technical skills or musical foundation to approach it with any degree of success.

A case of compounded frustration led to a double teacher firing.

For these instructors it was an emotional blow, and for me, the one who’d abandoned them at the tender age of 12, I felt bundled with guilt and remorse. Still, I had to move on.

The piano teacher I left had been an impressive performer who played to applauding audiences and critics on the local New York concert scene, but she couldn’t easily put herself in the place of a fledgling student and devise a stepwise, thoughtful approach to piano study. My learning gaps were so immense that I nearly gave up the piano–hanging by a thread because I dearly loved the instrument.

Years later, the abandoned piano teacher had swallowed her pride in the wake of my departure and restored her affection by sending a congratulatory note after my Mozart concerto performance at the New York City High School of Performing Arts. By then, I was 15 and studying with my beloved, long sought after teacher, Lillian Freundlich whom I’d met through her nephew, Douglas Freundlich, a Merrywood Music camper (Lenox, MA)

As I had hoped, Mrs. Freundlich went back to the beginning, awakened me to the singing tone dimension of the piano, and had me playing individual notes for the first weeks of study. In the process, I realized that the way I balanced my fingers with the relaxed support of my arms could create the resonating sound I had always imagined. Each lesson brought a revelation that compared to a child’s first encounter with a sunset.

The sad part of my musical relationship with Lillian was its premature ending. No sooner than I’d set foot in her ethereal musical space with its ebony shining grand pianos, Persian rugs, and window view of Riverside Drive, I had to leave and make my rite of passage to the Oberlin Conservatory. That’s where all signs led. No other destination was planned since Mrs. F. was an alumna and had carefully groomed me for this next phase of my life.

Teacher farewells usher in changes and new beginnings that are very much like marriage break-ups. They have a powerful impact leaving twinges of emotion that are re-awakened in the course of our lives.

If I listed all my teachers who came and went, it would be a laboriously long, drawn out epic, bogged down by burdensome detail.


My arrival at Oberlin, the “Learning and Labor” school with its formidable music conservatory, brought the antithesis of what I had grown to love about studying the piano.

Suddenly I found myself in an antiseptic, white structure stacked with tightly-spaced practice rooms and paper-thin walls. Far worse was my instructor who had students lined up at his door pumping out the same Hanon exercises. They played with arched hand positions and stiff wrists. It made me want to jump the next plane back to New York.

My only option was to leave the teacher and request another in the piano department. Meanwhile, my dorm roommate, who’d been a Performing Arts High classmate, having left her studies with an inspiring Manhattan-based instructor, Leon Russianoff to attend the Midwest Conservatory, had already packed her bag and was on her way back East to reunite with him. Her hasty Oberlin-based musical marriage break-up was followed by a second wind New York relationship.

Would I follow my bunk mate? Although, I wanted to go AWOL, contemplating a full separation from the “Con,” I decided to tough it out with a string of teachers that finally produced a good match with Jack Radunsky, who passed away a few years ago. (Along the way, I had switched my major to violin to escape the first, didactic, soul-absent piano teacher) Uncannily, Stuart Canin, former concert master of the San Francisco Symphony was my brief mentor before I reunited with the piano.

Returning to the Big Apple after graduation in the embrace of my newly acquired Performance Degree, not exactly a job market titillation, I found myself back with Lillian Freundlich, who was by that time, blanketed with wall-to-wall students. Nonetheless, I enjoyed rekindling musical ties with this former teacher before I headed off to California to start a career and family. Another heart-breaking farewell.

The twist ending to this long-winded story of coming and going teachers reads like a novel’s denouement.

Once settled in the San Joaquin Valley, agriculture’s heartland, I met up with Roselle Bezazian Kemalyan, who was Lillian Lefkovsky Freundlich’s roommate at Oberlin in 1933 and endowed the Bezazian Piano Scholarship. Quickly, she became my musical surrogate mother as we looked back fondly upon our musical memories of Lillian.


Now that I’ve been a piano teacher for decades, I fully comprehend the emotional effects of students coming and going.

A two-way musical journey can easily be interrupted by circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Sometimes students choose to change lanes and seek other study options while at other times a teacher has to make the difficult choice to discharge a student who’s not practicing for months at time or respecting studio guidelines.

Piano study is a metaphor for life, and the teachers, students we encounter along the way leave their indelible traces behind them. The collective path taken often comes with emotional highs and lows but just the same, it’s worth the effort.


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Patricia Frederick’s text is provided in full where it had some missing parts in the Fritz Blog.

Due to margin mechanics problems, part of Patricia Frederick’s text was missing in today’s blog on the Fritz piano, so here are the entire paragraphs which have relevance to the discussion.

Patricia Frederick


“What I particularly like about Viennese actions such as the Fritz, is that the single escapement gives such a direct sense of being in touch with the strings, due to their having fewer moving parts between the key and hammer. The damper mechanism you describe is the standard Viennese model. As you have undoubtedly discovered,  you just have to use a lighter foot on the pedal so the damper rack doesn’t drop the dampers back on the strings with a crash.” (She was referring to the visible black pedal bar that bobs up and down with each depression of the sustain pedal)

Second missing paragraph:

“For heaven’s sake, don’t let anyone hire any piano technician who thinks the Fritz piano should be “rebuilt,” if by that he means replacing the soundboard and hammers. That would totally ruin the piano! Many technicians have been taught that every piano over about 50 years old should be rebuilt, just as a matter of routine. This is simply not true, and results in the destruction of countless old pianos, because the grades of hammer felt and soundboard wood available today are vastly inferior to what was available to original builders. Tom Winter would probably be someone who can be trusted to work on the Fritz piano.”

Next paragraph in completion:

“If you like the bass on the Fritz piano you played, you would love the bass on our Streicher. It is extremely resonant and clear, perfectly articulating the contrapuntal bass lines in Schumann’s music, which I feel loses more in the transition to the modern piano than the music of any other composer, except maybe Brahms.”

Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Shirley Kirsten

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The Fritz Piano of Vienna: A Romantic Era Reborn

On a wind swept day in March, while I was shopping in a busy Northwest Fresno plaza, I spotted a curvaceous baby grand piano through the open door of the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop. Its sunbathed, feminine profile and polished wood exterior drew me to it with the force of a magnet. Decades before, I had experienced the same haunting attraction to still another piano, as my father and I walked along Fordham Road in the Bronx, along a bustling, cobblestone street dotted with stores like Alexander’s that attracted a steady stream of buyers.

The first love of my life would be found on this very block, in Mazilli’s warehouse, an odd fixture, among the more popular establishments in the area. Its dark and dreary space housed a sea of eye-catching pianos of all shapes and sizes.

Myron Buchbaum, our corpulent and faithful piano tuner insisted that his friend, Mazilli had a never-ending supply of instruments that were plucked from lavish estates in the north Bronx and then rebuilt to impeccably high standard. To this point, he’d been tuning my Wieser, an old upright piano of questionable value that cost my parents $50 and a lot of anguish. Hardly a note played without buzzing and beating, and some in between the noisy ones, would not sound at all. The piano, however, served me in good stead during my years of study with Miss Schwed, who’d beaten the soul out of me with her ponderous, hand pounding accompaniments on the lid of a music school piano.

Music that managed to squeak through this monstrosity was savored by my endearing parakeet “Tykie,” who, when released from his cage for his daily exercise landed on the keyboard and hopped from note to note, leaving little droppings in his wake. All at once prompted by the music I was practicing,  he’d soar to the ceiling, sometimes bumping his tiny head against it.  “La Chasse” and “Tarentelle” from Burgmuller’s collection of “Twenty-five Progressive Pieces” inspired his fancy free flights, after which he’d settle back down on the keyboard for a restful pause.

As we grew older together over years and my repertoire steadily advanced, he experienced the joy of our newly acquired 1922 Sohmer upright purchased from Lucy Brown, concert pianist. Though the sonorous instrument had become the instant love of my life erasing memories of a toxic tonal hell associated the Wieser piano, the Sohmer would be prematurely retired due to the effects of bitter New York City winters and humidity packed summers. And at the time of a raging blizzard, Tykie would die from pneumonia.

In a matter of years, I was off to the Oberlin Conservatory at the urging of my newest piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich, who nurtured my love for the piano even further. A grad of Oberlin herself, she could see no other option for me.

With a Performance Degree in my hand after four arduous years of study, I was now ready to own my very first grand piano!


The lovely sheen of a medium size, ebony grand situated in the front of Mazilli’s warehouse drew my ardent gaze. It had the elegant Steinway name and lyre emblem imprinted on its fall board.

It was springtime when the grand piano begged me to sample its sound universe. In the space of a moment I was seated in front of it, drawing deep musical phrases from its core, and without reservation, on the spot, I knew that this was the piano of my dreams.

Mazilli, a hunched over man in his fifties, approached the shimmering instrument with a conspicuous limp. He looked like Gepetto in his work apron, holding an odd-looking sharp, metal tool along with an estranged hammer from among 88 installed in a piano. It was obvious to me that he’d taken pause from his grueling labor to nurse along a sale.

By the glaze in my eyes, he knew instantly that I didn’t need his sales pitch. In no time, my father, a railroad man of modest earnings seized the moment and made a piano purchase that would resonate for years to come. Without even a hint of hesitation, he handed $2,800 in cash to the Italian immigrant who had become instant family through this life-changing transaction.


After having been temporarily immersed in memories of the Bronx, I urged myself back to the present–to Fresno where I was currently drawn to the Discovery Thrift store of the American Cancer Society that had a donated piano peering through its entrance way. A neighbor to commercial establishments such as Save Mart, Subway, the Beerocks shop, the thrift store’s bread and butter donations were items of clothing, furnishings, house ware, paintings, and jewelry, but occasionally, a piano would roll onto its floor.

An exotic looking pianoforte in rosewood stood before me with stunning, engraved carvings on its façade that verified it immediately as an antique. Its filigreed rack with retractable candle holders was awe-inspiring. I’d never seen anything like this other than period piece pianos pictured in the glossy finished volume, Clinkscale’s Makers of the Piano. And by its appearance alone, this instrument should have been housed at the Smithsonian or in a comparable museum of rare instruments, not among pot holders and towels placed on a shelf next to it.

I noticed the curvature of the wood on one side, with another abruptly squared off, suggesting the scale of a mid-Nineteenth century piano, but not being a music historian or archivist of early instruments I could only draw on my conservatory background with an abundance of music history courses.

The lovely, feminine appearing piano had “J Fritz Sohn” engraved into a wooden plate affixed to the fall board that evoked the esteemed name of “Johann Fritz” who had built Fortepianos, that were predecessors of the modern piano. Yet I wasn’t certain that “J. Fritz” was related to him. Since sohn translated to “son” in German, it was conceivable that the instrument was made by the son of Fritz, but who would know for sure? I had a formidable appetite to learn more.

Looking at this diminutive and splendorous antique I was reluctant to play it for fear that drawing a sound from it would snap its age old strings and possibly cause it to collapse, but I knew I would take the risk and throw fate to the wind.

The fall board was shaky and out of alignment, requiring a technician to mend it, and while this piano’s magnificent exterior was exceedingly impressive, it might not translate into a remarkable sound image.

I  dared myself to take a seat in front of it and once there, I plunged into its keyboard discovering immediately its capacity to sing out and register its character and personality.

To my surprise, the aristocratic but fragile looking instrument produced a hugely resonant sound that belied its 5 foot dimension. Though it was painfully below concert pitch, but relatively tuned across its keyboard at 100 “cents” down, (one whole step), its striking bass still jumped out of itself, ringing off the plaster walls!  As I drew deep phrases from it, I noticed a conspicuous black pedal bar bobbing up and down each time I depressed the sustain pedal and I couldn’t imagine why a piano builder would install a such a noisy and discombobulating piece of hardware that provided drum beating, accompaniment sounds! These hearkened back to the days when Fortepiano builders installed numerous pedals in these instruments and added built in rhythm sections of tambourines and cymbals. It was quite a spectacle!

My curiosity was heightened by the piano’s construction and how  I felt closer to the strings because of a single escapement mechanism between the key and the hammer. (In later, more developed pianos, pushing down on the key activated a more a complex touch response)

I scoured the Fritz inside and out, searching for clues to its background and identity, but all I could ascertain was its recent ownership history. “Mary Papazian,” a local resident had acquired the piano for $5,000 from Chesterfields, a Fresno antique establishment and she then donated it out to the Discovery Store. Supposedly, it was originally obtained through a San Francisco auction house.

On my way out of the thrift store, I bumped into an elderly man who wore a proper gentleman’s cap and carried a heavy rectangular, black tool box. From his appearance, he had all the markings of a piano tuner, but I didn’t recognize him as someone who had ever entered my piano sanctuary in a search and destroy mission. Most of these fellows in our neck of the woods had learned the trade simply through a correspondence course or by tearing down a piano and then re-assembling it. Many a fine instrument had been gutted in the process.

The stocky fellow, lugging a big metal box headed straight for the antique piano, causing me to retrace my footsteps and linger awhile to establish communication with someone who might own a fountain of knowledge about the Fritz.

“I’m here to look over this piana,” he said. A customer ‘a mine might be interested, so I better be gettin’ myself to work.”

“Are you a piano tuner?” I asked tentatively. “Oh by golly, yes I am,” he answered, “and my name’s York. I been tunin’ pianas fer over 50 years and was trained by my grand pappy. He put me to work at 9 and gave me a whippin’ if I’d be late comin’ to his shop after school.”

This would be one of several treasured anecdotes he would retread over and over in the course of our budding friendship that was ignited in the Discovery Store on a breezy, spring afternoon. Eventually, he would tell me that his grandpa also ran a dairy farm where little York was expected to milk cows.

“Them there cows made me so mad” he said—“They kicked me and swished their tails in my face!”

I wondered if he could enlist his well developed, over-sized hands to make a piano adjustment.

“Mr. York, could you please fix the shaky piano keyboard cover?” I asked.

“I sure kin fix anythin’ so long as it’s needin’ fixin,’ ” he said.

He demonstrated his repair skills by banging out the fall board and removing the end support blocks. Then he re-installed it with a proper hinge attachment.

“Well let me get inside this bugger and see what’s happenin’ here.”

He detached the music rack and took a careful look at the hammers like he was an inquiring country doctor.

“By golly, this thing’s gotta be over a hundred years old! Them their strings are so worn, they’re about to snap, so I ain’t gonna try tunin’ them up to save my life!”

I came closer to see what I had already observed for myself but this time I felt honored to be under the tutelage of what I thought to be a master technician.

“But you know what,” I said, “the instrument plays like a dream and captures the Romantic era sound. You just can’t dismiss that.” It had an uncanny resemblance to Frederic Chopin’s Pleyel piano that I’d encountered on the Internet.

“Nah, it can’t be a musical instrument, period, ‘cause it can’t be tuned,” York said. He’d already broken out his tuning fork and discovered the piano was a whole step below concert pitch verifying my impression of it.

“Well, I have to respectfully disagree with you,” I replied, “because it still produces a lovely tone, and maybe a buyer would have to accept its limitations and enjoy it for what it’s worth.”

“Aw shucks, no,” he said, confidently. “Anybody who buys this bugger, is wastin’ good hard earned money that’s put to better use.”

He was tweaking a string and adjusting its contact with a hammer. The he wrote up an invoice noting what he’d done to the piano, adding the word to “donation” to the slip that was placed on top of the piano.

“That’s very generous of you,” I said, as he was packing up his toolbox.

“Hey is it possible we could find a serial number somewhere inside the case, or maybe a builder’s name so we could get a clue to the date it was crafted?” I asked.

“Well, let me take another look,” he said.

York disassembled the piano once again and showed me a penciled signature that was hard to decipher by its classically styled inscription.

“Oh wow, that must have been the craftsman’s name,” I said. “You can clearly see the “Fritz” part of the signature but without a date attached. Let me get in there to take a photo or two and then I’ll make a few extra copies for you, Mr. York.”

The stocky tuner ducked out of my way as I situated myself at various angles to capture the complete signature and the full piano image. When I was done, York closed the piano and packed up his tools.

“Well, I gotta be runnin’ to my next tunin’ job or I’ll be late fer it.”

I imagined his granddaddy giving him a flogging for being tardy.

On his way out he handed me one of his self made, blotchy business cards, then he headed toward a brown pick up that was visibly packed with piano related hardware.

I had a premonition that we’d meet again soon, I just knew it.


It was more than 6 months later that the Johann Fritz sold. The Assistant Chief of Police at Fresno City College purchased the piano after it was priced down from $5,000 to $2,000. But before it arrived safely in its new home, a local physician had entered the Discovery store and offered quick cash for its immediate possession. Store volunteers who were not made aware of the “hold” on the piano, sold it to the second party, until the manager returned from vacation and restored the instrument to its rightful owner.

I had earnestly wanted to own this priceless Fritz but hadn’t a stitch of extra space to house it at the time. Squeezed into tight quarters with my Steinway M, 1917 eating up most of my living area, I reluctantly let it slip away from me.


I sat at my computer at home sprinkling a few more e-mails with an attached photo of the Fritz, to reputable restorers of old instruments around the country just because I wanted to know more about the Fritz piano and its place in history.

The many responses to my inquiries were heart-warming and informative.

Maximilian Rutten, from the House of Grand Pianos in New York City wrote:

“The ‘conspicuous’ black bar that bobs up and down as you describe it, is an indication that the piano you were so happily performing on was one with a “Viennese mechanic,” an old, now antiquated mechanism to operate the striking and damping system. There are thousands of these pianos left mainly in Europe, from an equal number of unknown makers. They can indeed be wonderful to play. As a matter of fact, most European piano music up until 1880 or even 1890 was composed on such pianos, until the mechanism pretty much as we know it today, became standardized. One of piano history’s many enigmas is why these pianos didn’t get more attention if they played such an important role in the history of classical music repertoire. Indeed, museums have tended to ignore them, not to mention the open market. Pianos as this one can be bought in Europe for a few hundred dollars, even in decent playing condition, because no one is interested in them.

”So my advice is for a buyer to hold on to the instrument and enjoy it as long as he can.”

Maximilian Rutten

641 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y

Thomas Winter, who owned a shop in San Francisco where he’d been restoring early pianos for over thirty years, imparted the following information:

“Your description of the piano was excellent. Everything you described is consistent with a grand piano dating to the 1870’s. As for the size, I don’t have a lot to say. Even in the 19th century, grands were built in a variety of sizes. Terms such as baby grand and parlor grand are vague and have no parameters. I’ve always suspected they were invented by salesmen to help sell pianos.

“The penciled inscription is probably the signature of one of the craftsmen who built the piano. I doubt if it will help you date the instrument.

“I hope this helps.”     Tom Winter

Patricia Frederick, the Frederick Collection of early grand pianos, Ashburnham, Massachusetts took precious time to send me two lengthy and fascinating e-mails:

Dear Shirley,
It's the single escapement that gives such a direct sense of being in touch with the strings, due to their having fewer moving parts between key and hammer. The damper mechanism you describe is the standard Viennese model. As you have undoubtedly discovered, you just have to use a lighter foot on the pedal so the damper rack doesn't drop the dampers back on the strings with a crash. (She was referring to the visible black pedal bar that bobs up and down with each depression of the sustain pedal)

“Without knowing the condition of the piano's wrestplank (pinblock), we
couldn't say if it would withstand being brought up to pitch. However,
if the structure of the piano is sound, it should be possible to tune
it to a-440. (concert pitch) Of course it would have to be tuned several times in a
row, in order to let the strings and frame adjust to the new tension.
This is true of any stringed instrument that has been left at low pitch
for a time. 

“If you do find the piano's pinblock can withstand tuning, and if a
string breaks, please be sure any replacement string is not only
the same guage wire, but also the same softness. Modern piano steel wire
sounds horrible on old pianos; it is too stiff to give off the right
overtones, so it sounds whiny and dirty. 

“For heaven's sake, don't let anyone hire any piano technician who thinks the Fritz piano should be "rebuilt", if by that he means replacing the soundboard
and hammers! That would totally ruin the piano! Many technicians have
been taught that every piano over about 50 years old should be rebuilt,
just as a matter of routine. This is simply not true, and results in
the destruction of countless fine old pianos, because the grades of
hammer felt and soundboard wood available today are vastly inferior to
what was available to the original builders. Tom Winter would probably
be someone who can be trusted to work on the Fritz piano.

In a second correspondence, Frederick wrote:

“If you liked the bass on the Fritz piano you played,you would love the bass on our 1846
 Streicher! It is extremely resonant and clear, perfectly articulating the contrapuntal bass lines in Schumann's music, which I feel loses more in the transition to modern piano than the music of any other composer, except maybe Brahms.

“It would probably be well worth your time to make a special trip to New England just to experience our piano collection. As egotistical as this sounds, I am basing this statement not on my own opinion, but on what we hear repeatedly from pianists who visit the collection. The common reaction is that playing these pianos is ‘a revelation,’ ‘a life changing experience.’

“My husband and I have devoted our lives to this project in the belief that musicians need to hear and play these pianos in order to understand and effectively interpret the standard piano repertoire. The piano of today has been designed to meet such different demands that it really doesn’t contribute to one’s understanding of the music of past generations. “

Very truly yours, Patricia Frederick

I replied:

Dear Patricia,

“As you suggested in your last correspondence, many vintage pianos that hardly need overhaul are forever ruined by those who are on automatic pilot to refurbish, restore, recondition, or whatever else motivates some of them to destroy original sounding pianos.

“So, Patricia,  I think you and I are  in agreement about some overzealous re-builders  who have found a new and profitable industry for themselves and will often ruin pianos that might not need anything but tweaking.

“Please know that you and your husband are my heroes in your passionate pursuit of historical instruments such as the Fritz, among others, that you carefully restore and bring to life through historical performances at the Frederick Collection.


I thought back nearly nine months, when I had first encountered the Fritz piano, and how far I had come, through all this time, learning about period pianos and restoration practices. It was an eye opener, to say the least, and an adventure I would always treasure.

Hindsight is 20/20 but I wish I had bought the Fritz and placed it safely in my piano room in northwest Fresno. It would have been a welcome addition to my two Steinways. But as the next best compromise to ownership, I still had the sweet memory of its tone, and every day I admired its colorful photograph amidst my student portraits.

Patricia Frederick’s comments in full about period pianos:


Relevant link for information on period piano restorations:



Baroque music, counterpoint, harpsichord, J.S. Bach, JS Bach, Mr. York, music, music history, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, pianist, piano, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano pedagogoy, piano society, Piano Street, piano technique, Piano World, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Steinway and Sons, Steinway grand piano, Steinway M grand piano, Steinway piano, talkclassical.com, Teach Street, technique, Theory, uk-piano-forums, Uncategorized, Well Tempered Clavier, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Everyone plays the Bach Prelude no. 1 in C (You Tube video embedded)

Is this the latest hit among classically minded You Tubers? How many have flocked to upload Bach Prelude 1 from the Well- Tempered Clavier. Perhaps it’s because playing this first one, and singing the “Ave Maria” over it elevate the player to new spiritual heights. Spun out broken chords between the hands lay a bed of enriched harmony that will support anyone’s attempt to vocalize. You needn’t be a professional singer. Just humming “Ave Maria” will do and it works.

As Introduction, BAROQUE minded people might prefer to upload No. 1 and not some of the later ones in Bach’s collection that advance a bit quickly. (There are 24 in Book I)

The Preludes travel around the Circle of Fifths gathering sharps when going clockwise and flats when proceeding in the opposite direction. The Fugues that belong to the Preludes in pairs, challenge the player to listen to an introductory “subject” that weaves through the music, with an added “counter-subject.” “Episodes” between subject/counter subject follow and the counter-point (independence and interaction) of voices requires analysis of what transpires from measure to measure and phrase to phrase. It’s definitely not child’s play, though one should play like a child, with a sense of awe—like the first awareness of a sunset or sunrise.

I offer a few insights as prelude to playing the Prelude.

The character of No. 1 is immediately evident. There are no articulated notes. The spun out broken chords passing across the hands suggest the harp, an ethereally divine, angelic instrument.

For those with a purist approach to the music of Bach, the use of the sustain pedal through a progression of chord-like patterns would be ill advised. Impassioned Baroque stalwarts could claim that the piano was not in existence during the composer’s time. “The harpsichord reigned supreme!”

To dry up this prelude, would be a mortal sin. And then again, if I had a harpsichord at my disposal, I would probably place it in a very “live” musical environment so it would shimmer with resonance.

In my opinion, the best way to approach broken chord patterns is to CHORD them at first to experience what voices are common from chord to chord and which depart. Bach wanted the player to know what harmonic directions he was taking because he made it a point to craft a melody through a journey of chords. What a blessing to feel neighbor motion between sonorities, but it will not always happen. If it did, the music would sound trite, not rising to a level of genius.

The Prelude should be played extemporaneously, or maybe I am falling into the Romantic period, advancing the clock.

I just couldn’t help feeling a well of emotions in the space of just two pages.

Bach and his genius reign!

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A tour of my piano room as prelude to the tuner’s arrival

Awaiting Terry Barrett’s arrival to tune my Steinway upright, I decided to have some fun panning about the piano studio, sharing favorite mementos on and off the wall. It might be a bit dizzying with numerous shifting camera angles, but the desired homespun, impromptu feel is there.

When Terry gets here, I will do more videotaping and corral him with some questions (undisclosed and unrehearsed) that should elicit some interesting, if not, controversial responses.


Shirley K

A-440 Pianos, antique pianos, cast iron piano plate, Connell York, cracked piano plate, Internet sale scams, Pascal Vieillard, piano repair, piano technician's guild, Piano World, pianoworld.com, Proksch piano, Shirley Kirsten, Uncategorized

Funeral for a cracked plate (piano) Caveat Emptor!

The brief ceremony above was followed by preparation for interment. More funeral photos are added at this writing’s conclusion.

The plate, before it was laid to rest….

No one will believe this story, except those who trust their eyes to bear witness to a tragedy that befell a piano and its owner. The photos attached to the text flesh out a particular misfortune in graphic detail giving credence to the statement that truth is stranger than fiction.

If anything can be learned from this epic ordeal, it’s Buyer Beware!

“Shattered Dreams,” is a chapter from my manuscript about pianos; the people who sometimes impetuously buy and love them; abandon them; and then often try to re-claim them. Add in sleazy Internet scams, shady international dealers, foul play, and you have a burgeoning soap opera starring any number of exotic pianos that end up in the trash as firewood, stripped of their dignity, and sometimes left bare-boned without a case. One particular cracked plate, a skeletal remain of an antique European grand, the Proksch, endured so much abuse that it was laid to rest in a stirring ceremony, with its owner overwrought with grief.


The story was initially relayed to me by Connell York, piano tuner, and long-time friend. His client, used him as an expert witness in a legal claim she had filed against the company that sold her the piano.

Proksch 1905 grand piano–A Shattered Dream

Rebecca McGregor, an avid community fundraiser, mother, and wife of an established tax attorney, regretted having selected in cyberspace what she thought was the piano of her dreams. Her 12-year-old daughter, a devoted piano student with a less than perfect piano, needed a replacement according to her teacher, so Rebecca followed her fast-tapping fingers to the Internet where she encountered an eye-catching 1905 Austrian Proksch grand piano in a flawlessly finished ebony cabinet with Empire legs, ornate brass casters and a carved fleur-de-lis music rack.

A link to the seller, A-440 Pianos through the eBay network revealed a universe of “New and Vintage premium pianos” of promised excellence.

The company, in Lilburn, Georgia was one of the first to capitalize on the budding potential of online commerce. Ron Smith, who worked for owner, Pascal Vieillard, told me by phone that the company had aggressively forged ahead with its sales on many levels, attracting buyers within the state, out-of-state, and all over the world by cyber and through personal contacts.

“We have a showroom right outside Atlanta and a second residence of 2,500 square feet that houses more pianos, and a huge warehouse full of boxed ones,” he said.

Scanning through columns of online posted photos of exotic European pianos such as Bosendorfer, Petrof, and Bechstein that were separated from more mainstream brands such as Yamaha and Kawai, an Internet visitor would immediately appreciate the vastness of A-440’s inventory and its relatively easy access.

What made the virtual tour so engaging was a seductive soundtrack of moody 40’s era piano pieces that evoked the opening of Woody Allen’s “Play it Again, Sam,” with its smoke-filled bistro.

I was instantly entranced by the site, as I scrolled through reams of dream pianos, many of which looked enticing enough to own.

From my two Online visits to A-440 Pianos, I could easily understand how Rebecca McGregor might have launched her piano search right there in cyberspace accompanied by the strains of a bluesy piano.

She admitted that after she spoke with the owner, Pascal Vieillard, a French merchant who jet-set all over the world from Europe to China, Japan and back to expand his inventory, she got suckered in. “He was so charming,” she said, “and on one occasion, while I was speaking with him by phone, he communicated so touchingly with his children. I thought to myself, how could someone this caring be anything but trustworthy.”

I was chatting with assistant, Ron Smith, about a Victorian looking grand piano that resembled a Fritz piano on sale at the American Cancer Society Thrift store in Fresno, when he abruptly transferred me to “a period piano specialist.” In no time I was listening to a heavily accented Frenchman named “Pascal” (the owner) who talked with authority about a “Zacha & Sohn” piano that could have been a look-alike.

“Zeese pianos made in Vienna in the mid-19th Century, zey look very seemilar,” he insisted.

“So would they have the Viennese action?” I inquired.

“Ah yes, defineetly.”

“Do you know if this one has a black pedal bar that bobs up and down?” I asked.

“Oh, most certainly,” he replied.

“So do you actually restore these pianos?”

“Ah yes, we have very esteemed people in Europe who do the restorations.”

Ron Smith had mentioned in our first conversation that most buyers purchased a piano and then restored it later.

“Makes no sense to put all that work into an instrument before it’s sold,” he insisted.

Ron’s statement could have been invalidated. Restoring period pianos was a gray area since there was no guarantee of success. If a piano was not well-born like a Steinway or Bosendorfer, re-stringing and re-hammering it might be an exercise in futility. It would yield little if any improvement in tone and projection.

Thomas Winter, San Francisco restorations specialist had said that rebuilding an early piano was a big question mark. He was joined by a growing choir of cynics.

In truth, the Proksch piano, with a serial number that revealed its age to be over 100 years old, was not a good choice for restoration because of its marginal pedigree. While it looked aristocratic, it did not spring from nobility.

Nevertheless, Rebecca McGregor’s attraction to the Proksch increased after she heard its “lovely tone” over the phone. And Pascal Vieillard nursed her infatuation by providing more exotic details about its restoration.

“This piano was built by an ex-student of the BOSENDORFER PIANO-MAKING SCHOOL and rebuilt by Helmut Schonberger, a master technician in LEIPZIG, Germany (He worked on several pianos for the Viennese OPERA house and other very picky institutions) We do not even come close in the U.S.A. to do this kind of quality work…all parts are German ABEL HAMMER and custom-made Renner.”

He instilled even more confidence in the buyer by telling her that the Proksch was “an investment-grade piano with a flawlessly finished cabinet” that her daughter “would pass on to her children.”

Rebecca McGregor may not have asked the right questions before she plunged into buying the Proksch. In a heart beat, she wrote a personal check for $10,500 made out to “A-440 Pianos” without thinking about hiring an independent and unbiased, registered piano technician to give the piano a good rundown. Just this measure alone might have saved her future anguish.

As the piano took its belabored cross-country journey to Fresno, California, from Atlanta, Georgia, it got hung up in delay when it had arrived on the West Coast. Transferred from one mover, Keyboard Carriage, to Schafer Brothers, a series of complications increased the buyer’s despair.

“I’m not going to call because I am too angry,” McGregor wrote to Ron and Pascal. “I don’t know what you’ve formerly found to be courteous about the movers, but I can assure you that they have been rude, abrupt, and arbitrary.”

She’d been promised the piano on a certain day, but was told she would first receive a call to verify delivery. Too many times, the updates faded in the wind.

Understandably distressed by the vagueness of delivery, she logged every complication along the way in her personal journal:

“Ron Smith said he could give me only an estimate but not the actual date of the piano’s arrival. Was I crazy? He kept telling me to calm down and the more condescendingly he spoke, the madder I got. AND the more we argued about stupid semantics, the later the delivery became and the more circuitous the route.. first to Santa Barbara, then to the Bay area and then the piano will be the last drop in Fresno before the truck heads to Los Angeles. ”

In a second e-mail sent to Ron, the buyer expressed even further frustration.

“The delivery men came at 6:00 p.m. last night. I can’t begin to tell you about the series of phone calls and misinformation that flew around. They left a message on my cell phone (which I rarely use) telling me that they would be here at noon.

“I had some questions about the piano and I asked many times if the finish was in good condition. When it finally arrived well past its due date, it looked fine, but the side and back were covered with cracks in the cabinet that went through the veneer. The finish had been applied over these cracks, so it wasn’t something that surely happened after I received it.”

Rebecca had also noted “how odd it was that the piano had stainless steel and metal screws alongside brass adornments. She wanted to match all of them in brass but wondered if these screws were especially made for pianos.

“The sound was excellent, as far as she could tell at this point,” she wrote in the journal, recapitulating her email to Pascal. “But several of the keys stuck and it was impossible to play last night. The piano tuner would be coming today at 1:00 p.m. and we’ll see what he can do to remedy the situation… I’ll let you know what the tuner says today. This is a lovely piano and I hope we can resolve some of my concerns.”

At least one sticking key had been identified before the piano left the showroom and Pascal had promised to fix it. Now there were several sticking keys that Bill Barrett, Fresno piano tuner, thought might be caused by their shifting in transport from Georgia to California. McGregor had hoped this would be the only problem to remedy as she had been very impressed with the piano’s tone.

During his first piano inspection, Barrett said that “the inner workings of the piano had been beautifully restored.” What remained then, were the touch-up issues on the finish. On this very subject Pascal replied by e-mail a few weeks after the Proksch’s arrival in Fresno in early April 2005:

“Hello, I am back from Germany and I am glad to see that you are in agreement with me about the tone quality of this piano. Feel free to call me tomorrow regarding touch-up of the cabinet.”

Cosmetic matters put aside, the future of this piano as a credible musical instrument had not yet been sealed in stone.

Seven months passed after McGregor’s correspondence with Vieillard about the cabinet irregularities before she shared more upsetting news with him:

In an e-mail dated November 2, 2005, she wrote:

“I apologize for taking so long to deal with the finish on the piano. Now it seems to be the least of our problems….My daughter practiced last night just before bed and again this morning. She has a recital on Sunday. This afternoon when she began to practice after school, 8 to 10 of the keys were suddenly off, very flat and tinny.

“I called our tuner and asked if he could do us a favor and come over immediately. He did his best to tune the piano again (This is its fourth tuning since we’ve had it) but he noticed that one of the major screws holding the cross-bar on the harp had cracked in two. Now that the piano is tuned, it stills sounds very bright, tinny, and simply not right.

“The tuner indicated that the repair was going to be major and that he would refer us to someone who could handle it. I am beside myself. It sounds like a different piano, and now I’m concerned about the integrity of the harp itself! Please tell me what more you know about the repairs made on this piano before we spend another dime!”

McGregor had noticed for the first time when the tuner pulled out the piano action, that most if not all the screws in the cross-bar of the cast iron plate had been shimmed with smaller screws drilled into the center of each of the larger screws. It indicated that repair work had been done before shipment from Georgia.

Pascal had replied from Japan that he was interested in seeing “pictures of the problem from close and not so close.” He insisted that the company had bought the piano “already redone.”

McGregor replied that “the piano really sounded terrible, not the mellow tone both you and I remembered. Last night my daughter said that it sounded worse than her old piano. ..It’s now so discordant that we can barely tolerate listening to her practice.”

McGregor’s anger reached fever pitch when she e-mailed Pascal on November 7, 2005.

“From our tuner’s viewpoint, it seems that the Capo d’Astro bar has been warping and tension on the strings finally caused the bolt to snap. (This literally happened over night) My daughter played before bed and when she returned to the piano after school the next day, the sound and tuning had changed dramatically. There’s also a full crack in the bar at the junction where it meets the harp. I’ve included the photograph of the peeling powder coating which was not noticed until we removed the music stand (piano rack).”

McGregor had sent Vieillard ten photos that graphically exposed cracks to the cast iron plate and its horizontal bar (Capo d’Astro) She also included one picture of her daughter “trying to practice” on the morning after the meltdown.

“Needless to say, we’re devastated!” she wrote. “This is a gorgeous piano, visually, but now it’s unplayable! We await your advice and response.”

The buyer’s declaration about the piano’s failure also applied to a Johann Fritz 7 foot piano that was being sold by a Visalia interior designer who marketed skin products on the side. I had learned from York who visited the location that this piano was just a pretty piece of furniture with no value as a musical instrument.


Meanwhile, Pascal responded to Rebecca in a doting, but evasive way as she continued to record the back and forth communications.

“Of course the best picture is the one of your daughter playing the piano,” he said. “Please give me a call. I have a few ideas.”

Enraged, McGregor replied.

(November 14, 2005)

“…I cannot imagine that you expect us to walk away from what you referred to as an ‘investment for generations to come.’ “The piano was $10,000 as I am sure you recall, and the fees for delivery, repairs and tunings, fixing the “stuck” key (a pre-existing condition according to you), the flaws in the finish (which miraculously appeared en route), the peeling gold powder coating on the plate and now an irreparable crack in the plate, make the piano useless and of no value! Would you just walk away? What do you expect me to do? Better yet, what should I tell my daughter about her piano?”

There was no further correspondence between Rebecca and Vieillard from that point on as recorded in her journal. In the months following, she had dealt with complications from breast cancer and several related surgeries that drained her energies. When she was back on her feet and able to think things carefully through, she decided to file a small claims action against A-440 pianos. The decision was fueled in part by a letter she received from the owner of a reputable piano company located in the Bay area. He had reviewed her detailed piano photos and wrote back:

“I looked at the pictures. Repairs are not recommended. You have already over-invested in this piano. Stop now and cut your losses. By the way the idea that this was an ‘investment quality instrument’ is ludicrous. You can count the number of investment quality pianos on one hand. They are all household names and are very expensive.” He was referring to Steinways, Mason Hamlins, Bosendorfers and a few other choice brands.

“So sorry about your experience with these——people in Atlanta. Legal action is about your only recourse, but I have no idea if that is even possible. People buy pianos every day sight-unseen on the Internet, and it’s “buyer beware,” but it seems like a very risky proposition to me. With a little research most folks get very shy of deals like this.”

The piano company owner’s words summed up lessons to be learned from fly-by night purchases of Internet pianos. Even if a buyer had perceived a piano’s lovely tone by phone, long distance, it would not amount to a thorough evaluation of a 100-year-old instrument.

Hindsight is 20/20 but perhaps McGregor should have had a tuner from Atlanta pull the action and carefully inspect the cast iron plate for incipient signs of weaknesses or outright cracks. One would think that Vielliard, a confirmed Associate Member of the State’s Piano Technician’s Guild would have made sure that such detailing would precede the piano’s shipment. But it was still unclear whether the piano had shown signs of metal fatigue at any point in its life before delivery to the owner.

Mr. York, an old-time tuner friend, had become involved in the sticky situation at about the time Bill Barrett, his professional colleague noticed the cracks in the cast iron plate.

About a year following Rebecca McGregor’s ordeal, York came over to my house to provide me with background on the cast iron plate. He described it as the piano’s “back bone” and as such, it was subject to at least 40,000 pounds of pressure (2 tons) exerted by the weight of the strings. If the plate cracked, the piano was “really in bad shape,” basically, terminal, he insisted.

According to information gleaned from “Five Lectures on the Acoustics of the Piano” presented by Harry A. Conklin, the cast iron plate was “the supportive structure for all the strings and had to be strong enough not to break under the load of strings, and it needed to be stiff enough to offer good tuning stability…A massive structure in 9 foot concert grands, it might weigh between 342 and 396 pounds.”

Pascal Vieillard had not offered the buyer a warranty on the Proksch piano. He had included this statement within a response to the small claims action filed against A-440 Pianos. by Rebecca and John McGregor in May, 2006:

According to this merchant with an international trade profile, “The plaintiff purchased a piano that was shipped in good condition and received in good condition. The piano was over 100 years and carried no warranty. There was no way to foresee the trouble the Plaintiff would have with the piano 7 months after receiving it.”

McGregor’s Declaration asserted that “Defendant, Pascal Vieillard represented to Plaintiffs that the piano was sound; was an investment-quality instrument and would be played for years to come. The piano was instead not merchantable or fit to be played for any substantial period.”

In a written opening statement the buyer detailed what Ron Smith, Vieillard’s associate had said before the piano purchase was concluded:

“He told me that he could not provide me any written guarantee, but the one thing he would tell me was that he would verbally guarantee the plate, explaining that everything other than a plate could be repaired and that a plate should be my only real concern. I had no idea what a ‘plate’ was but took him at his word.”

Connell York had been enlisted to be McGregor’s one and only expert witness at a trial held at the Gwinnett County Courthouse, in Lawrenceville, Georgia in early August, 2006.

“I wanted ta help the lady out, and do a much as I could fer her,” York said as he was pointing to the Capo d’astro bar inside my Steinway grand, a raised horizontal part of the plate.

“So do you think the cracks were pre-existing, even before the piano arrived in Fresno?” I asked.

“Well ya just never know, they’s could have been the beginnings of cracks way back before they’s was discovered.”

“And what would actually cause these cracks?” I asked.

“Well they’s coulda come from plain old metal fatigue. That there piana, whatever it’s called, is 100 years old. What would ya expect?”

It’s a Proksch, Mr. York!” I said. I could barely pronounce the name myself without spitting or losing my breath. Rebecca McGregor, on the other hand, said it gracefully with the hint of a lovely Eastern European accent—she just glided through it.

“So could the cracks have been caused by the long piano move across the country?”

“Aw shucks, no,” York answered. “If them movers had dropped the piana, the case woulda’ been destroyed first, well before that there plate would.”

“Well, maybe repeated tunings had caused undo tension to the plate.”

“Now that’s entirely possible,” he said, “cause that piana’ is so old, it maybe couldn’t take too many tunins cause we’re talkin’ here about 40,000 pounds a pressure applied by the strings! Now listen up,” he continued, “way back in them old years, pianas wasn’t built to be tuned up as high as 440 frequencies. They’s was set at 435, ‘bout 30 cents down, so that there pooch piana or whatever she calls it, wasn’t hell bent on getting’ its pitch raised.”

To brush up on my knowledge about cast iron plates, I located an article in the November 2000 Piano Technicians Journal, titled “Piano Plate Breakage a Case Study.” Steve Brady, RPT Editor, stated that “plates rarely break and when they do, it is probably because of their inferior or faulty design.” He added that when the plate breaks, “it is not uncommon for it do so some years after the piano was built. Stress fatigue in metal occurs with the passage of time, and microscopic cracks do grow until the part finally fails.” He concluded, therefore, that piano tuners can’t be blamed for causing plate damage simply by raising the pitch of strings.


Rebecca McGregor had flown York to Atlanta, Georgia and then they drove off to Lawrenceville, nearly getting lost.

“Mr. York couldn’t follow the exit signs for me and I’d been told that the citizens of Atlanta complained about them, too,” she said. “The more exits we missed, the more anxious we became.”

When the two of them managed to arrive at the Gwinnett County Courthouse, Small Claims Division, they looked southern justice straight in the eye. Not a court reporter was in sight, and the defendant’s attorney kept voicing objections to every last bit of York’s testimony. Unfortunately, the judge sustained nearly all of them.

McGregor summed up the courtroom scene. “Mr. York really did his best to explain, but neither the judge nor the defendant’s attorney would allow him to complete a thought. Additionally, we were both simply frightened and out of our element.”

She was beside herself trying to make some headway fleshing out the truth of her tragedy, but the judge recused her star witness just as she was beginning to make inroads.

“That there attorney on the other side was in the judge’s hip pocket,” York said.

Plaintiff McGregor could barely continue. She felt so downtrodden that she wanted to take the earliest plane out of Atlanta. Even her own testimony had been barred because the judge ruled that she was not an “expert.”

“When it was all over,” she said, “Mr. York called his wife and I called my husband, both of us sounding exhausted, frustrated and close to tears.”

The Defendant, Pascal Vieillard, 45, owner of A-440 Pianos had dominated the courtroom all along with his argument that the piano had been shipped from the store in good condition, without a warranty, and whatever happened to a 100-year-old piano, 6 or so months after delivery was the buyer’s problem.

Curious and concerned about the absence of a reporter transcribing testimony at the trial, I contacted a Gwinnett County court clerk who insisted that having the trial recorded would clog up a court system that was meant to move claims of $35 to $15,000 briskly along.

Jonathon Jones, attorney, Fresno, whose garage housed his Yamaha dream piano that I had recently detailed, echoed the opinion of the Georgia clerk:

“Shirley, Concerning the small claims case to which you refer, the fact that there was no court reporter is not unusual. Small claims court is closest to arbitration. The intent is to get small disputes under $15K, resolved without clogging the main court system.”

In a telephone interview I conducted with Pascal Vieillard on May 11, 2007, he stated unequivocally that he had offered the buyer, Rebecca McGregor an even exchange on the damaged Proksch but that she declined.

“I don’t know if she told you how many times I made zis same proposal, but she said, “I don’t trust you anymore so I am not going to buy another piano from you!”

According to Vieillard, he believed that he had tried to satisfy the customer by offering her this option and therefore felt spared further blame. When questioned about whether he would encourage customers to get a technician’s opinion from any number of members of the Atlanta Piano Technician’s Guild before making a purchase of his pianos, he shied away from saying yes. “Well, we all know each other,” he said.

During the course of the interview, Pascal Vieillard verified his Associate membership in the Atlanta Technician’s Guild and admitted that he had not passed the required exam to become “registered.” Mr. York was also an associate member of the local PTG and had not passed a comparable examination. Vieillard stated that he obtained a two year Associate Degree in Piano Technology at Western Iowa Tech in 1988.

In follow-up interview with Rebecca McGregor, conducted on May 12, 2007, she responded to the statements made by Viellard:

“Oh my God, he said on the witness stand under oath that he graduated the University of Iowa!! I distinctly remember this because I thought it was ironic that he had graduated from my father’s alma mater.

“As for his offer to exchange the piano, it’s a lie, simple and without question. The only offer he made was to meet me at the big NAMM trade show in Los Angeles in January and allow me to buy one of the pianos there at cost, through him. Additionally, he offered to take my piano back if I paid the freight and was willing to take any money he could get for selling it as “salvage”. That was the only offer that was made and he is, once again, lying if he tells you anything different.

“I distinctly asked him to either to refund my money or give me another piano, and he refused. Wouldn’t I have been a fool not to have taken such an offer, to have instead, incurred the additional cost of flying to Atlanta? “


York was standing beside my Steinway bemoaning his Gwinnett County courtroom experience

“Maybe it was just plain red neck justice or somethin,’ ” he said.

“Well, it could have been,” I replied, “but the important thing was that Rebecca did her best to expose her side of the story.”

Acting as her own attorney she had prepared her case meticulously, putting together a binder of photographic exhibits, e-mail correspondence between her and the A-440 Piano Company principles, court filed papers, exhibits of her check payment and moving vouchers, plus a very dramatic opening statement that poignantly told her story.

But despite her best efforts, the judge ruled against the plaintiff simply by checking off a box. He was not required to render a written opinion.

It might as well have been Judge Judy’s court of least resort.

York insisted that “it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”


Looking Back

With considerable time having passed since the trial, Rebecca McGregor is still bitter about what happened, but she’s learned through painful experience that she should never have purchased a piano sight unseen.

I asked her how she would advise buyers who were looking for their dream pianos amidst a slick marketplace of avaricious sellers.

“I would say once and for all, never buy a piano without obtaining the opinion of a certified piano technician, and make sure you look at it and see it for yourself—have someone play it for you, and then touch it with your own hands. You should lay under the piano and look from the bottom up, because there are so many little things that can go wrong. It’s most important that the plate be in stable condition, because everything else can be fixed.”

Rebecca clings to the hope that York can help her get the plate repaired. He’s already taken up the challenge by hauling all of 250 plus pounds to the College of the Sequoias in Visalia where there’s a welding department and students eager to test their mettle with this huge chunk of iron.

“It will be interestin’ to see what happens,” York says. “Ya just never know. They might be able to repair them cracks and then I can just put the strings an’ everythin’ else back in where they belongs. Could work, or not. But let’s hope it does.”


The story never had the happy ending York had hoped for. Sadly, when he carried the plate from the welder at the College of the Sequoias to his awaiting truck, it cracked in two other places and had to be laid to rest.

Additional funeral pictures are shared here:

Mr. Barrett, a Registered Piano Technician, above, who consulted on the plate before it was declared dead, is seen praying over the victim.

Rebecca McGregor the owner and tragic victim of a piano selling scam, checks the plate for any signs of life, even though for all intents and purposes it had already died.