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My Piano Assessment adventure at Walnut Creek’s Steinway Piano Gallery

Steinway Piano Gallery

Piano Teachers and performing pianists in the Bay area were tapped to evaluate the tone/touch dimension of Steinway, Boston and Essex pianos so I was pleased to be on the invite list–contacted by Justin Levitt, Manager at Steinway’s showroom in Walnut Creek, CA. It was a reflection of good will spread far and wide by the new Steinway owners who are reaching out to a community that is helping the piano survive amidst crushing digital piano sales.

On a different note, this opportunity was particularly relevant to my own piano’s rocky journey in the regulation realm. My dissatisfaction with technicians had built to crescendo levels, and I had at one point considered putting my M to pasture. I’d replace it with a healthy, well-maintained NEW grand, but before I acted on impulse, I would grab the chance to personally explore a brand new Steinway ‘B’ as a model of relative perfection–affording a smooth, un-blubbered journey in half-steps across the 88’s.

While my tour de force interest was scoping out a Steinway autographed grand at the Gallery, I agreed to assess a Boston grand piano (GP-178-EP) and an Essex EUP-123E Classic studio upright (48″) as part of the total survey project.

As it turned out, the afternoon proved to be very rewarding. Decked out with an iPhone, camcorder and tripod, I managed to film my piano sprint among three instruments, enjoying a compelling interview interlude with store Manager, Justin Levitt.

Naturally, as the historian I’ve become in these regular JOURNAL postings, I was predisposed to record and share my latest piano adventure.

A big Thank You goes to Justin for a very warm welcome and well-informed interview.

And by the way, this very knowledgeable store manager happens to be a pianist and composer, having just released his second music book, By My Side.!product/prd13/2675637191/within-music-book-and-cd

Steinway Piano Gallery Walnut Creek is located at:
1605 Bonanza Street Walnut Creek, CA 94596 (925) 932-0100.

LINKS: (*Note the upcoming piano sale in the East Bay at Zellerbach Concert Hall: by appointment only)


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An afternoon with piano student, Judy and her Steinway ‘A,’ in nature’s paradise

How many piano teachers are invited to a student’s lakeside home nestled in verdant beauty?! It was a splendid display of trees, including pines, cedars, spruce, casuarina, maples, birches, poplar, locusis, and sycamores, as well as native oaks.

River otters, deer, and exotic birds, such as egrets and herons are known to inhabit an awe-inspired Walnut Creek, California natural environment that frames a home bundled with a generous serving of early California history. (“Land and water rights in the area were acquired in 1908. Two years later the reinforced concrete dam was built at a cost of $80,000 creating the beautiful lake.” Road construction followed in the course of Lakewood community’s birth)

Better screen shot lake

To add to this gorgeous nature-draped backdrop, a soulfully resonant Steinway A, 1911 grand drew me into its playing universe the moment Judy sampled a few Mozartean phrases for me. While she’s been practicing the Exposition of Sonata K. 545 for less than three weeks, it’s nicely forming with contoured phrasing in back tempo.

best Judy at the Steinway A

After Judy’s dip into a pool of resonance, I was wooed to play a “chorded” version of J.S. Bach’s Prelude in C, followed by my extemporaneous lesson on trills that seemed to lighten up the space.

What an extraordinary piano to explore!


The afternoon had begun with a tour of Judy’s place, an incredible lunch, followed by the centerpiece display of her family’s heirloom grand piano in the “adobe room.”

Judy’s dad, who attended Juilliard, played chamber music with a string of fine musicians on the East Coast igniting his daughter’s interest in music, though ultimately Judy doted upon the oboe.

For a time she studied with Jean-Louis Leroux at the San Francisco Conservatory before embarking for France to become a pupil of her teacher’s mentor.

As Judy’s journey played out, her musical connections led to artistic trysts in Paris with some of the most regaled performance artists of the Twentieth Century, one of which was pantomimist, Marcel Marceau whom Judy met and worked with. He was a source of inspiration for her interest in helping children, in particular, to learn early reading skills in a creative framing.

If we fast forward the clock over decades of Judy’s life, we see how she was drawn into the educational realm, branching out into the universe of helping youngsters with basic reading fundamentals. (Wrap up 40 years of teaching experience and you have a vision realized)

Not surprisingly, a dynamic and creative App, Bam Boomerang evolved for which Judy, her son, Keenan, and assistant Beth became intensely engaged. Over years, they developed and refined what is a well-established and highly regarded teaching tool.

Over a delectable lunch prepared to the last meticulous detail, both Judy and Beth served up a mouthful of valuable information about their reading-based activity that’s obviously their labor of love.


For more about Bam Boomerang, the app that gives kids personalized feedback while they play games and learn to read, check out the Direct Download:

“Bam Boomerang is an engaging app where kids read words into a microphone and get one-on-one feedback while having a blast playing games, earning trophies and buying things for their own animated world.

“No other app gives personalized, effective feedback to students!”

Download and get started free:



My afternoon at the San Francisco Symphony with Yuja Wang, Pianist

It was a shock to my nervous system to hear a LIVE concert! I had been getting so used to iPod fed classics and You tube streamed performances that I forgot what I was missing.


From my seat at terrace right, almost hanging over the stage, I heard amazing instrumental clarity and orchestral color, though the Steinway concert grand, with lid up, (reserved for a virtuoso) completely blocked out the pianist.

Still, it was not a deterrent to my musical pleasure and that of my concert partner and ticket benefactor, Sonya. We felt a rush of endorphins as Maestro Tilson Thomas served up a program of bon bons and ear charmers. (Before the conductor ascended the podium, he told the audience to hold back coughs and sneezes in deference to a recording for a CD in progress) Naturally a gush of noise filled intervals between short pieces:

San Francisco Symphony


Entr’acte No. 3 in B-flat major from Rosamunde

Legend No. 6, from Legends for Orchestra

The Last Spring

Piano Concerto No. 1

Scherzo from Concerto symphonique No. 4


(Not skipping a beat, I grabbed an opportunity to borrow “Iberia” as the musical backdrop for my “Afternoon at the Symphony” video)

What fabulous Davies Hall acoustics!

The tour de force, however, was definitely Yuja Wang playing Prokofiev Concerto No. 1, along with a splashy piece by Littolf. Audience applause was so booming and prolonged, that after 5 curtain calls, the conductor nudged the pianist to play a unique encore–Tilson Thomas’s own composition that wove a story of two former lovers meeting to “settle things.” (audience chuckles greeted the scenario)

Would it evoke Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti or his later released West Side Story? Michael had been once heralded as the heir to Lenny’s throne.

Well, it turned out to be a short, jazzy piece that is, in part, showcased here as Yuja performed it.

Finally, after Debussy’s Images for orchestra capped a memorable musical menu, I joined my concert mate for a delicious repast at Max’s at the Opera.

Little did she know that I would borrow the symphony opener (Faure “Pavane”) as the soundtrack for a series of imported pics that celebrated our friendship.

There’s Sonya savoring some delectable mouthfuls!

Eat and be Merry! Or as Shakespeare said, “If music be the food of love, play on.”

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The Psychology of buying and selling a piano

I was hanging off the Gravitron at gym, as I shared inquiries about my FOR SALE Steinway with a personal trainer. Anonymously wrapped, my adventures seemed woven with psychological threads.Steinway upright reduced by 75 75 75 75

In the first place, BANNER ads with MODEL AND PRICE were easy to digest, even without a DIGEST to memorialize all the details surrounding my fine instrument. And if a visitor to any number of the marketplace websites I’d posted at, was literate in the English language, he or she would amply absorb information about the piano, all embedded in a well-fashioned HEADLINE and sub-text.

That is, if the inquirer was NOT making a glaring attempt to bargain down the advertised price tag, demeaning the instrument’s value, and by association its owner.

One mom, confessed that she had a very gifted youngster, perhaps 5, or so, who needed a piano, and thereby noted my ad. When I told her the Steinway was an “artist” type piano, she produced a string of Ebay links, asking me which instrument matched mine? It was clear that my piano matched one with the same model number, though this was the only discernible connection. My upright was about 20 years YOUNGER by date of manufacture, making it the NEWER piano. (did I say “NEWER” FOUR TIMES over?)

A $1000 console was added into the Ebay mix which probably threw mom for a loop. I had to explain that the small piano, was not in the league of a professional Steinway studio upright. (And I spoke from experience)

Interest waned. The call ended.

Still another inquiry came from a movie maker– Oscar nominated. (I always GOOGLE names for my personal protection in these sales undertakings. Should a caller be interested in SEEING/HEARING the piano on site, I would need to know who’s about to cross my Bezerkeley threshold)

This time the party’s email had a PERSONAL ring to it. “Here’s me, Elijah and Esther, seeing your piano. We’re interested in buying it. How much are you asking?”

How many reiterations of price were needed????

Or perhaps this was a documentary-in-progress?

…How to make a piano owner feel guilty for NOT SELLING a memento to dearly loved relatives with common roots in the Old Country.

The cultural connection to the inquirer produced an imagined script of Biblical proportion:

Moses intones from the mountain top: “Goest Thou to Donate your piano to the Shule and do a Mitzvah. Give your People an opportunity they have been deprived of for thousands of years.”

On cue, the piano-buying prospect directs me to the biggest prop on the movie lot–a ritual sin-soaking bath, with no release until after Yom Kippur.

It’s a mega-guilt-produced masterpiece with price refrains ad nausea three times over, and a choir of grieving family members sitting shiva.

Then the gripping denouement. The film-maker makes a cameo appearance, decrying her lack of interest in the piano, saying, “We’re just shopping around–the kids have had just a year of piano.”

(I feel unswerving remorse for advertising a fine piano when this poor, but richly creative woman has no pressing need for it. As punishment, I’m sent to hell)

It’s her wish fulfillment! My move down below will “free” up the piano for a “quick sale.”

One last ditch email arrives with the following forwarded message: “Here’s Shirley Kirsten’s ad about the piano. You should speak to her about it since you’re looking.”

No surprise. It turns out to be another bargain hunter in disguise. After I quote the price plastered all over the Internet, the woman, who initiated a piano blog, registers “zero” engagement with the instrument. (“We’re considering a 61-one key, electronic self-starter.”)

Finally, against this psycho-pathological buyer/seller backdrop, I still remain optimistic that the right person will purchase my Steinway. He/she will love and cherish this musical treasure until death do they part.

Post-Script: The film-maker is not predisposed to this Happy Ending unless she gets the piano “for nothin,'” (bupkes) (Not an option)


Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Steinway, Steinway model 1098 for sale, Steinway piano, Steinway piano model 1098, Steinway studio upright

My singing Steinway studio upright is a parting sorrow

Steinway upright dolled up

It hasn’t left Berkeley yet, but I’m sure my second singing nightingale will in time find the right owner. I’ve down-sized since my recent move–going from 3,000 sq feet, to 1500 to 700. Might as well live in a Pod.

Most readers and You Tubers watched me demonstrate for my students on the upright, as the camera was aimed straight at me–and once the piano made history when I briefly fell asleep during a “Fur Elise” lesson, nearly bonking my nose against the rack rim.

But most memories have been bundled in musical warmth and gratitude.

The Steinway beauty, inside and out, is a model 1098 manufactured in 1992. It has a wealth of resonance, added to an even, smooth “feel” across the keyboard.

May it live forever in the heart of its future caretaker, bringing musical love and joy to a new household.

On display:

Beethoven “Fur Elise”

John Peters, Registered Piano Technician comments on the upright:

serial number 524279

hammers and pins view

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The premier piano “haus” on W. 58th!

Guggenheim white Steinway B Klavierhaus

The high point of my trip to NYC was inhabiting a paradise of pianos on “piano row.” That’s what they call “West 58th” between Broadway and 7th Avenue.

In the imposing shadow of Carnegie Hall that envelops the neighborhood, Klavierhaus manages to retain its unique character amidst a glut of piano restorers such as Beethovens and Faust/Harrison.

(I made a visit to Beethovens that will be covered in a separate posting)

For me, Klavierhaus was indeed center stage from the moment I entered its sanctuary.

Greeted by an eye-catching, Pleyel, circa 1890, I sampled its delicious tone and impeccably even feel from note to note. Perfection to a tee permeated its DNA–In fact, the restoration was an historic journey with a keen awareness of what European materials were used at its inception. Jeremy Denk, concert pianist, had videotaped a riveting exchange with Gabor Reisinger, President of Klavierhaus about the care invested in bringing this instrument to exceptional playing standard. It was more than a miracle of fate, but instead, an artistic and historically authentic undertaking.

In the course of my meanderings through Klavierhaus with the assistance of Jeffrey Baker,(Business Dev. Director and Concert technician) I was impressed by more than a dozen pianos that were each developed to their full potential. No detail of maintenance was left behind.

This is not a common state of the art in most piano establishments. In too many, the instruments may have a basically appealing tone, but regulation and other problems abound that are sadly ignored–most likely for financial reasons.

The ever-looming profit motive compromises the needs of pianists who desire a lifelong compatible musical companion in the present minus a future promise of satisfactory, tailor-made “voicing” and “regulation”

(I’d encountered this in-the-next-life, promotional mantra many years ago when I was looking for a Steinway to replace a damaged one) Most pianos sampled at dealerships were “cottonballs,” without heart-throbbing, immediate tonal appeal.

NOT the “case” at Klavierhaus.

What I heard and experienced hands-on was the golden glow of piano paradise in the here and now without the promise of a honey-dipped afterlife.

And speaking of other-worldly environs, one particularly extraordinary piano captured my attention: It was a shimmering white Steinway in a gorgeous art case that’s best experienced by viewing my on-site video. (Excuse the shaky camera–I was very titillated to the point of tremulousness, not having a bulky tripod to steady me)

In truth, the following three videos in “a row” exemplify the outstanding work of Gabor and his team of tuner/technicians/salespeople who immaculately prepare and showcase these beautiful instruments.

First the lusciously mellow gift that Guggenheim gave to his wife on Valentine’s Day:

Next, a 9-foot Fazioli (Angela Hewitt’s favored piano)

Finally, more Pleyel-dipping, followed by a Bechstein sampling, and visit to the Klavierhaus Recital Hall


211 W. 58th Street
New York, NY 10019
(The north side of West 58th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue)

OTHER: My visit to Beethoven Pianos on W. 58th Street

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Piano Mania! and the Bezerkeley arrival of Steinway 1098!

Pianomania! is an apt title for a documentary about Stefan Knupfer, Steinway piano technician, who gallops upstairs and downstairs in a premier “Vienna concert haus,” trying to meet the needs of performing pianists, recording artists, et al. They demand the kind of perfection in voicing, tuning, aesthetics that’s often beyond human capability. One classic example is a relationship, easily characterized as neurotic that plays out with Knupfer and Pierre-Laurent Aimard. The pianist is gearing up to record Bach’s Art of the Fugue and requires “voicing” for Clavichord, Harpsichord and Organ by individual sections. Try transforming an acoustic piano into a 17th century artifact using more imagination than hands-on intervention, though in truth, Stefan has something up his sleeve that no other tech can dream up. (He’s a problem-solving dynamo)

The assortment of pianos Knupfer deals with is mind-boggling. Steinway grands are numbered like thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Derby.

The numbering, so conspicuously referenced in James Barron’s The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand(book and documentary) also applies to my own assortment of pianos.

Picture this, before I escaped from Fresno to Berkeley, California–

A living room hodge podge of acoustics: (and one digital)

The aerial view:

Fast forward to the latest piano shuffle in Bezerkeley, a sized-down space, that forced two acoustics out the door–one on loan to a piano teacher in Fresno.

The other, a Baldwin Grand, 1929, is housed up in the El Cerrito Hills! (my second E. Bay piano studio) Skyped piano lessons are launched at my Berkeley pad.

piano room where I teach El Cerrito

But Hallelujia! Yesterday, Steinway 1098, a bright-sounding studio upright made it’s maiden voyage to my apartment, displacing Yamaha Arius 141 that was shuttled off to the kitchen! The latter incensed Jakov Corsa, Facebook friend, who just purchased Arius 161, and considers it having altar status. (Kitchen?)

Well, it was better than relocating an electronic to the bathroom, if you consider the economy-sized layout of my digs. (By the way, a hamper joins the blended family, with an ironing board neatly folded into a custom-made cabinet–It’s ready for deployment) Talk about an all-purpose kitchen!

Yamaha Arius 141 in kitchen

Almost center-stage, but still UP-staged by my Steinway Grand, M, 1917, NO. 185152, is 1098, delivered expertly and with panache by Greg McCrea, AA Pianos, Oakland. (Check Yelp and you’ll need no further help)

McCrea piano movers

AA piano movers McCrea



Sitting pretty, all dolled up, and ready for action!

Steinway dim lighting

How’s this for lighting and color framing!

pretty Steinway with blanket

A few camera pans around the room

2 Steinway pianos

Mac back and Steinway pianos

The back story. I purchased Steinway 1098 in Fresno about 7 years ago. A friend spotted an ad for a Steinway upright in the FURNITURE section of the Fresno Bee classifieds. Naturally, I raced to see/play it, and my curiosity was rewarded by years of playing pleasure. The seller, a native Italian, planned relocation to the homeland and desperately needed to find a good home for her sweetheart. I guess it was love at first sight and sound! A match made in heaven!