Bruce Clark was bemoaning the fact that an Ampico Grand was ruined by
the public when played for entertainment. I have had some experience
with the same attitude and can say that in most cases, a good pneumatic
reproducer should probably stay at home (with the exception noted,
We went out to dine at a restaurant that leased an orchestrion from me.
I fixed them up with a switch operated from the bar, so people would
not be jamming food-coated money into it. Nothing at all bad happened
while the instrument was on location I have to say, because there was
no way you could hurt it, except maliciously, and it was in full view
of the bar at all times.
But when we were served, the waitress was vehement! She said, "Don't
you just hate that thing? Isn't the music terrible? I can't wait till
they get rid of it."
I didn't let her know who I was and asked her questions innocently,
like, "Why, what's wrong with it?" The answers started like, "Well,
nobody likes it, everybody hates it, etc." But we finally got around
to it, and here was her problem:
She was worried that this was going to be a new craze, and took her
rock sleaze seriously. It was like the antidote for acid rock, and she
needed acid rock like a daily shot. She was addicted to it. Her
reaction then was from worry. She just exuded fear and apprehension.
That music was actually beginning to get to her and she was starting to
respond to it despite herself. It was happy, melodic, pretty, and not
too loud. She realized what this could do if it caught on. The
customers too seemed to like it. So she downed it to all her walk-in
customers who hadn't heard it yet.
Large pizza emporiums with high ceilings or balconies is a perfect
place for orchestrions, if you can place them in such a way that they
can be seen by everybody. When the instrument is partly hidden, it
is in danger. But when they are the center of attention, the patrons
themselves will help protect that instrument.
The electronic players are perfect for the casual music kind of
ambiance because they have a volume control, and because they are
usually in the lobby of a fine hotel, or in a place that can be
overseen by managers and are relatively safe. At least, they don't
play exposed paper rolls that can be edited with a fork.
I have also noticed that when the piano looks new, or has a great
finish and is beautiful, it gets much more respect than if you were to
haul an old, alligatored grand into a restaurant; regardless how well
it plays, you're asking for it. After the first yellow scratch, its
vulnerability and tenuous circumstances will be scorned by all.
Nobody, I have found, is really interested in any more than salon-style
_background music_ when they go out to dine, and their complaints that
the music is too loud may also be well-founded. Some Ampicos do play
too loud. Dramatic performances however, are out of place, and the
soft mode on pneumatic "background" players should be used at all
times. It is also important to have management in charge of the piano
and responsible for it. Charging them for damage other than normal
wear and usage is a good idea.
The next problem will be the selection of music. Unless you are able
to play MIDI files with expression, the old tunes will only go well in
a "period" type restaurant. Anywhere else, it will call too much
attention to itself. For salon, I have found it's best to have to have
a mix of old and new tunes.
Finally -- and the biggest problem of all -- is the unlimited access
problem. If the public is allowed to roam to the piano, they have
at their fingertips all the controls and the rolls playing as well.
That's usually another mistake. Pour about 3 stout drinks down some
of them, and you can plan on eventual damage.
Supervision and specific playing hours are the best kind of player
entertainment, anyway. It causes guests to wait around to hear it.
And the velvet rope trick makes the piano inaccessible and respected
immediately. When you do it this way, you can put the piano on
Brilliant and play the classics, and if it is just one performance
or so, it will be greatly appreciated. The problem starts when you
try to play the piano all night. Background salon is a recipe for
Some people have said to me, "Why don't more people know about these
'reproducing pianos?' This is a great product, and somebody ought
to build them again." And I just tell them, "They have the electronic
pianos. What's wrong with them? They can be played all night long
without any problems." I don't tell them any more than that. Once
they've heard a fully restored pneumatic reproducer, I don't have to.
I just let the difference stand or fall on its own merit.
On the other hand, little children love player pianos and their music.
And when they realize that you expect them to be respectful and careful
with the rolls and the operation, and you take time to show them how to
operate it, and that taking liberties with the rolls or the instrument
is grounds for immediate deprivation and dismissal, they get the
picture and behave themselves. Then they really have some fun and
always want to come back. It becomes something that they can respect.