If it is a Piano, we do it!
Downers Grove, IL
630-852-5058ianos shown by appointment
Or drop us a note at...
New Or Rebuilt, That is the Question.
Through the years we have accumulated a large number pianos made in the golden years of American piano making form 1890 – 1930. These are all in “carcass” condition which means that there is little to no musical value left and hence the cost basis is very low. However, like those old Victorian homes we find in our older communities, once these are restored to the original condition, they add significantly to the richness of our neighborhoods.
Many of these names are unfamiliar to someone not in the trade, names like Conover, Stein, and Kurtzman, along some more familiar names like Baldwin and Mason & Hamlin. These pianos can be rebuilt and refinished for a fraction of what a comparable new piano would cost. Once one of these historical treasures is restored you will be able to pass it on to many generations.
In these days of our every shrinking supply of natural resources, rebuilding a piano uses only a fraction of the raw materials the manufacture of a new piano consumes. Rebuilding is very friendly to the environment.
The workmanship which went into these treasures of our past is a wonder to behold. These instruments were made by builders who, even those on the lower economic levels, strove to build the very best piano they could. Compromise had not yet entered the picture. You can even find very early Kimball’s, a name not usually associated with quality, better built than just about anything made outside of New York and Boston in the last 50 years.
I would invite you to come and see some of these diamonds in the very rough. I know they are not much to see or hear now, but this is an opportunity to have a piano which can be refinished and designed to meet your needs.
Conover 77 Grand
Lyon & Healy
Adam Schaaf Grand
Conover 77 Grand
Story & Clark
Yamaha C3 Grand
Lyon & Healy
Back to Teaching
Rules and Commandments
Over the next year or so, I thought I might share some of my teaching principles. I would welcome any thoughts you may have. I laid out my principles of practice within a set of 10 commandments and 15 rules. The commandments are largely attitudinal and the rules are more practical. There is some overlap and redundancy but sometimes we and our students need to hear the same principle expressed differently for its meaning and importance to become obvious.
Commandment 7) THOU SHALT NOT SAY “CAN’T”.
This is the most destructive word which can ever be uttered! It is forbidden in my studio for it is a lie. Unless you are missing a finger or a hand, you most certainly can, you just need some help and time. “Can’t” means I quit and accept failure; it is a statement of finality. Another word which will get my ire is: “try”. In the words of the great philosopher Yoda, “Do or do not, there is no try.” “Try” implies “I expect to fail.” What a self fulfilling prophesy! It is a much better to say: “I will do this!” and then determine what must be done to succeed. If you decide that the cost of “doing” is too great then you can decide to “do not”. The use of these simple words changes our focus from anticipated success to expected failure. While this does not guarantee success it certainly increases the chances of success and it makes us much more uplifting and encouraging people to be around.
Rule 9) LISTEN/HEAR.
Back in my student days it was a cumbersome or nearly impossible to listen to different interpretations of a work one right after the other. The school library may have a few duplicate recordings but not many. Today you can hear dozens of different renditions on uTube of just about anything. Try this exercise: Listen to the first minute of a work played by four or five different musicians. Do it again and this time observe the different details of tempo, dynamics, articulation. Observe how the music changes as these details are changed. How does tempo change the character of the melody? How does the articulation change your focus of attention? Is there a counter melody somewhere in the accompaniment? How does this affect the texture? A great piece of music cannot be played fully all at once; it contains material more that can be brought out in a single performance. Learning to listen below the surface can open a whole new horizon of understanding.
Road Less Traveled
Recently I was visiting with a fellow traveler in the piano world. He is one of the few people I have met in my life who has traveled a nearly parallel road as mine. He is a piano tuner and rebuilder, teacher, and has a similar education as my own. What a treat! In the course of our conversation I shared with him my experience as a church musician. His reaction showed me some of the unique advantages I had gained from my time behind the keyboards.
A little over 11 years ago I took a job at the New Life Lutheran Church of Bolingbrook as their organist. Now I had a semester’s worth of organ lessons in college and had “played” the organ for a couple of years at another church but I was no organist. But, as someone always willing to do something new and challenging I jumped in.
As time went on I quickly learned the liturgy and ran through the limited amount of music I had for the preludes and postludes. After repeating myself a few times I began to get bored with the whole process. I knew I wasn’t giving or getting everything out of the opportunity. So I decided to use the opportunity of needing a steady supply of new piano music to create a need and motivation for me to greatly expand my repertory. Rather than doing a scatter shot approach to learning new music, I decided to play through more systematically the repertory of the piano.
I started very simply with the Clementi Sonatinas and much of Anna Magdalena Bach book. I moved on to other literature of Chopin, Mednter, Debussy, Beethoven, and Bach. A funny thing happens when you set out to learn 5 – 10 minutes of new music every week; after few years, you have really learned a lot of music.
I am not sharing this to brag, but to encourage those of you with a similar opportunity and need to take full advantage of the discipline such a situation can place you under. I have become a big advocate of learning complete cycles of music. I cannot begin to explain everything I learned about music, Beethoven, the sonata, or myself after playing the complete cycle of Beethoven’s sonatas. Even if the cycle is as small as Bach’s 2 Part Inventions, learning and playing them all will give you a unique perspective quite different from knowing only a few.
How Do I Know When My Piano is Out of Tune?
Let’s first address the issue of definition. Piano tuning is a process of adjusting the relative pitch relationship of 88 different pitches. As with politics and religion – everyone has a different opinion as to what “in tune” means, even among professional piano tuners. To add to the difficulty of defining “in tune” is the inherent instability present in all pianos. Piano tuners who are honest about their work say they abandoned a tuning – not finished it. There comes a point in every tuning where further work doesn’t achieve any more noticeable improvement in the tuning. Further work at this point may actually decrease the stability of the tuning. This doesn’t mean that the piano is “in tune”. It just means that it can’t be made any more “in tune”.
Tuning is analogous to cleaning. If the room is very dirty, a preliminary cleaning is the first step to bring order and cleanliness to the room by removing clutter. A second and third cleaning may follow which may begin to clean the dirt and dust to that which is typical of a reasonably clean room. You can continue to clean away but it makes no appreciable difference to the overall cleanliness of the room. Does the dirt still present make the room “unclean”?
So what defines the “dirt” of tuning? In the simplest of terms, it is inappropriate “beats”. Beats or waves are generated by the interference between two pitches. These beats can be present at various speeds and between different notes. Tuning is a process of arriving at some optimized level of these beats.
You can sometimes hear beats within a single note. Play a note in the middle of the piano. Hold it down and listen for a wave or undulation in the pitch. If you hear any movement in the pitch, it is out of tune.
Play perfect 4ths and 5ths. Hold the notes and listen for the waves or beats. You should hear some movement between the notes. Generally, the 4ths will be ever so slightly faster than the 5ths. Their speeds though will depend upon their location on the keyboard.
How long a tuning lasts depends on the environmental stability, amount of pitch adjustment needed, condition of the instrument, and most importantly your standards. A piano can be tuned two or three times a day in a concert or recording setting. One time Sting rented one of our pianos for rehearsal purposes and I tuned it every morning for a week.
So the answer is, yes, your piano is out of tune right now, even if you had it tuned yesterday.