Newsletter July 2010
My journey through the complete Beethoven Sonatas has brought me back to my old friend the Hammerklavier Sonata. Many years ago, as I was finishing my Master’s Degree, I began to dabble in this massive work. In time, I was hooked. It took a couple of years and over 700 hours of hard work, but I finally performed it in a series of recitals I gave in the Spring of 1992.
I had put it aside ever since, rarely even listening to recordings of this marvel of the literature. But, after performing the Op. 101 its number, so to speak, came up and I have begun to relearn it. I have often compared my initial learning of the Hammerkalvier to Marine boot camp. It was such an arduous effort and required such a commitment of my time and psyche that I was transformed as a person as well as a musician in the process.
The final piano sonatas and string quartets of Beethoven expand the notion of musical expression beyond anything seen before. And to this day they are some of the most musically demanding music ever written.
Returning to it has allowed me to revisit my experiences learning this music. I was a much younger man, who really didn’t understand the immenseness of my undertaking; (youth is great that way). But once begun, I found this music utterly captivating in the questions it asked. From the very first gesture the player is challenged, will you take the first two notes with one hand as it is written, or two, which is much safer? What is the point of using two hands? How do you hold together a slow movement which lasts over 10 minutes? Where do you get the emotional intensity to play it? A 15 page fugue??!! How do you hold THAT together, let alone play it anywhere close to Beethoven’s tempo?
Yet, 700+ hours later I sat down in front of an audience and did it. I am not sure of how well I did, but I remember thinking just before I started about the amazing journey I was completing at last.
In the years that followed that initial journey I reaped many rewards from my efforts. My technique matured and stabilized immensely and my ability to absorb and learn music began to finally accelerate. But the greatest lesson learned; and which brings me back to the boot camp analogy, was I was capable of accomplishing anything I set my mind to and commitment my resources to doing.
My nephew, Benjamin Remillard, went through Marine Corp boot camp a couple of years ago and has served in Iraq and elsewhere. In those few months of training, Benjamin found within himself abilities and character he never would have found without the very difficult journey through his training. Students have often expressed their “like” and “dislike” of a piece of music based solely upon it easiness. How much of life have we missed because we avoided the difficult and the challenging?
There is a great web site and facebook page called: latestartermusician.com. I highly recommend it. In many ways, we are all late starters. As long as we are on the journey, even if we began decades ago, there is so much to learn and understand. I feel every day that I have only just begun and am getting a very late start on things.
At the suggestion of a friend I will be starting a blog on my experiences with learning and studying that greatest and most ephemeral of human expressions: music. The blog will be available on my web site: ANRPiano.com and will go live sometime late in July. It will be a little slow at first because I have some other writing commitments concerning a different field which I must first complete before I can fully engage my first love.
A Brief Word on Health
Piano tuning can be very hard on certain parts of your body such as your hands, elbow, shoulders, neck, back, and just about every place else. A few of years ago I found a fantastic therapist Jean Young-McBride in Downers Grove who specializes in a type of therapy called Ortho-Bionomy. Ortho-Bionomy is a gentle, non-invasive, osteopathically-based form of body therapy which is highly effective in working with chronic stress, injuries and pains. Jean uses gentle movements and positions of the body to facilitate the change of stress and pain patterns. Ortho-Bionomy is very effective in helping alleviate both acute and chronic pain and stress patterns by reducing chronic muscle tension, soothing the joints, increasing flexibility, improving circulation, and relaxing the entire body.
Thanks to her efforts my arms have finally begun to heal and I am regaining strength and mobility.
You can reach Jean at 630-253-1006, be sure to mention that you heard about her from ANR Piano.
What Can ANR Piano do for You?
Everything in Balance
Ever wonder why some pianos say “play me” and others, well, you can’t imagine why anybody would ever want to play them?
Even if a piano action is regulated to an absolute perfection there can still be unevenness from one note to another. Regulation refers to the correct mechanical settings for various functions to occur, but it does not take into account one very important criteria to a smooth and even touch. The weight of various components has a profound impact on the touch of a piano. If you were to weigh each hammer and chart the results you would have a picture closely resembling the movement of the stock market!
How could the touch be even when one hammer weighs 1 gram more than its neighbor? You might think that one gram is not that big of deal, in fact you are right. A gram is equivalent to 2 ½ medium paper clips. Yet when that small amount of weight is acted upon by the leverages found in a piano action it becomes at least 5 grams at the end of the key.
With the typical down weight (the weight needed to depress the key with the damper pedal depressed) about 50 grams, a 5 gram difference represents a 10% variation! That is noticeable.
Difference in hammer weight also has a profound effect on the tone a hammer generates. All things being equal, a heavier hammer produces a darker, mellower tone and lighter hammers will give you a brighter tone.
All weight variations are evened out when a Custom Action Balancing is performed. In addition to hammer weight variations, key weights are also evened out and all leverage problems and inconsistencies are corrected. If you would like your piano to say “Play me” give me a call at 630-852-5058.
You can see one of a kind piano in the “Davis Piano Story" on our website. This art case Steinway & Sons “B” came into our rebuilding shop a few years ago. It is a wonderful example of the unique cabinets Steinway & Sons produced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You can also follow “The Story of the O’s”. We are documenting the rebuilding of two different Steinway & Sons model O pianos. One came recently from California and the other appears to have spent its entire life here in Chicago, much of it in a coal heated home. If you are bothered by dust now, just be glad you don’t have a few tones of coal be delivered to your home every few months; black, thick dust!
Tuning – Pianos need to be tuned every 6 months to a year to keep them in good condition. How long has it been since your last tuning?
Moving – Get your piano moved from room to room or to a completely new location. Wherever your piano is going, be sure to move it safely.
Rental – We do in-home rentals and event rentals. We can help you get a piano that will fit your occasion. We have rented for weddings, corporate events, restaurants, churches, recitals, theaters, schools, and much more…
Refinishing – We can work with you on your color preferences and help you get your piano looking brand new.
Rebuilding – We can breathe new life into your tired old pianos! This can include fixing key tops.
Consignment – Selling your piano may go faster if it has some space in our showroom. We’ve had many successful consignments!
Storage – We can store your piano in our shop for a monthly fee.
Caster Cups – We can help you find the right caster cups to match your piano. We have hardwood walnut, mahogany, and ebony stained caster cups as well as a variety of other types, new and used, to choose from. Prices vary.
Benches – Whether your old one needs refinishing or you’re looking to purchase a new one, we can help!
Polishing Kits – We have piano polishing kits including high gloss polish (suitable for any finish), a key cleaning solution, and polishing clothes for $23.
Lamps – There are a number of House of Troy piano lamps we can order for you.
Escapement, Getting Out From Under
Recently we had the rare opportunity to have an 1860’s Erard in the shop for a brief period. These are exceedingly rare pianos and this one was in fantastic shape. It had been rebuilt and restored to original condition by a very conscientious rebuilder. I was very excited to open the piano and examine the action which dates from very near the invention of the double escapement action built by the inventor of that very action, Mr. Erard. This action design is what all modern grand actions are based upon.
The term “double escapement” refers to the mechanisms ability to “reset” the hammer jack relationship without having to return the key to the fully upright position. You can re-strike a key on a grand piano after returning the key to about the ½ way point. On almost all uprights, and the 1897 Broadwood grand we have in the shop, you must allow the key to fully return before it will play again.
The double escapement allows for a much faster repetition and much more subtle soft playing. This accomplished by a second lever, sometimes called the “balancier” which is attached to a spring. The spring applies a positive lift to the hammer knuckle and when the key is released and the hammer is freed from the back check it is able to lift the hammer, allowing the jack to slide back under the knuckle before the key has fully returned.
There are a few examples of “double escapement” like upright actions. Fandrich & Sons has developed an action with an extra spring connecting the hammer butt and jack which pulls the jack back under the butt, allowing for a quicker repetition. And as the preacher said: “There is nothing new under the sun.” We are just finishing the complete rebuilding of a 1912 Mason & Hamlin upright with a spring designed to push the jack back under the butt also. If you want an upright which plays and feels like a grand… here you are! The Mason & Hamlin will repeat with even less key return than a grand piano. You can get the key to re-strike with the key less than ½ way returned.