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MMD > Archives > July 1999 > 1999.07.05 > 08Prev  Next

Popular Rolls of the Era
By Craig Brougher

I am glad to see Spencer Chase copying Duo-Art Popular rolls for this
reason:  The classics will always be around, played by this artist and
that artist.  They were played straight off the music for the rolls
(unless they are a drafting table transcription), and the "relatively
small differences" in the way they are played is typical of that
artist.  But pop music of the day is the most volatile resource of
all, because it is all improvisational arranging and playing, and never
played off the music.

Pop music will eventually become the primary source of our musical
knowledge of that day by reason, both of the tunes themselves, and of
the "tricks" used in their performance.  Also, the ultimate collector
value of the pianos themselves will largely depend on their ability to
reperform their pop music.  Classical performers come and go, and as
long as they stick to the score are appreciated, but the contemporary
pop music of a culture only "goes."  It can never really return.  With
"permanent" recordings, it can be heard as it was actually played at
the time.

Fifty years from now, when people who play this music have also passed
away, and the original rolls have long been thrown away, there will be
nothing left to imitate or to study.  It is these arrangements especi-
ally that should be preserved because it will be discovered too late,
that they have actually the greater historic significance by far.

One other very important historical aspect will also be the words of
the tunes.  These words convey huge amounts of information as to the
true spirit of the age, the moral codes, the humor, the politics,
the sweetness, the things that were most important to the majority of
people.  As a matter of fact, the words to songs happen to be the true
history that no one can rewrite and cover up -- that is, as long as
they still exist.

Stop and think what future musicologists will discover about our own
era when they start to compare the words and performance emphasis of
our pop culture songs today, to that of the early culture in the 20's.
Do we believe that our children have the same kindness, innocence,
wisdom, and humor?  The proof, as they say, is in the "pudding."  Just
read for yourselves and make up your own mind, because their songs were
the mirror of their heart! The song is the truth.

Besides the historical aspects of the music pop culture of the day is
the actual mechanical musicality of a Duo-Art playing the pop tunes of
the day.  The Duo-Art was designed to play classical music dramatical-
ly, in the way it is able to have its intensities "preset" and waiting
on a theme perf to reproduce that actual dynamic.  It takes full
advantage of a classical pianistic style.

What taxes the Duo-Art to its limits then are the pop tunes and semi-
classical ones, played by artists like Armbruster.  Those are the
arrangements that only a very well-regulated Duo-Art can play realist-
ically.  I have heard many a Duo-Art owner say that his piano plays the
classics well, but he has never been very impressed with its perform-
ance on popular rolls.  I have also heard other "experts" say that
Duo-Art didn't put much effort into their pop tune rolls, and used just
a formula style coding for them.

That may be true for the old saws, like "Three O'clock In The Morning."
It was not true for the majority of its pop tune rolls.  Those rolls
really sparkle on a truly well-regulated Duo-Art.  Sorry, but to be-
lieve that a Duo-Art doesn't perform pop music as well is a wrong
concept.  It can, but it takes more than the generally accepted factory
adjustments to effect it.

I wonder how many people realize what a sublime artist Robert Arm-
bruster actually was?  Or on the other hand, how many think he was
really boring?  The entire question in a nutshell comes down to this:
How do you regulate a Duo-Art?  Because while a Duo-Art is easier to
restore than an Ampico, it makes up for it later, when it comes down to
regulation.  It is by far, the most difficult player to regulate that
there ever was.  So the kinds of music to use when regulating a Duo-Art
is NOT the classics, ultimately.  It is the pop tunes!

Any average Duo-Art will play most of the classics well.  After the
average "book" adjustments are made, most say "There. It's by the book
now, and that means, it is perfect."  Baloney.  The book adjustments
just get you in the ballpark.  From there, you have to know what you're
doing, and what certain codes are supposed to sound like, and when your
roll races over them again and again, back and forth, and you don't
really hear those changes supposed coded on the rolls, what do you say?
"Well, they really aren't supposed to be heard that well."

So when I see that Spencer Chase plans to record the pops in Duo-Art
format, I hope that many will take him up on it and keep buying those
CD's, because one day, they won't be around anymore, and the ability to
properly set up a Duo-Art will have been lost, forever.  Remember --
it's all done with pop music on a Duo-Art, once the test roll has
passed the "ballpark" test.  And you don't have anything yet, until you
can say, "Wow. That Robert Armbruster was really very good, wasn't he?"

As a codicil, I want to say that there is no way I am able to explain
how to regulate a Duo-Art, and would not even try to do it in writing.
Not because I am protecting this information, but because it would
leave as many questions and wrong impressions when I got finished,
as ever.

But like the owl in Disney said, "Follow your nose!"  I suggest to all
who want to do it that they try to "know Robert Armbruster and to hear
him play, personally." Once they realize that there is possibly more to
hear than they thought, they will finally get it for themselves.  But
there is no way you can do this with original leather and materials, or
leave anything undone or half-way done.  It's all in the details.

Craig Brougher

(Message sent Mon 5 Jul 1999, 12:45:26 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Era, Popular, Rolls

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