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MMD > Archives > October 2002 > 2002.10.20 > 01Prev  Next

Transporting a Pianola to Public Performances
By Dan Wilson, London

Four of us in the UK move Aeolian 65/88-note pushups around regularly
for public performance, myself probably the least.

Rex Lawson has a small gown van (i.e. with a high roof) just right
for pushup, piano trolley and roll boxes.  He has a much-punished
Dunlopillo (foam rubber) mattress which he lays on the road surface
and lowers the pushup onto single-handed, twiddling it around with
much scrunching from the rubber before lowering it onto the trolley.
Sometimes this results in the valves unseating, but he has a test roll
to jostle all those back into place.

Michael Broadway uses an even smaller "Rascal" van of the miniature
Suzuki variety, with a sliding side door as well as a rear one.  He's
a lot more careful of his pushup's finish and whenever I've witnessed
his loading/unloading operations, he has prevailed upon or otherwise
cajoled extra hands from the hall staff or bystanders.

Peter Davis has an altogether stiffer job since his pushup has been
converted to Duo-Art and where an original pushup might weigh 120
pounds (55 kg), his is more like 150 lb. (68 kg).  He rounds up four
others (it's as easy as three, after all !) and hands 'round what
I would call "coolie straps" having seen them in action in Hong Kong
-- lengths of tough webbing which go under the ends of the pushup and
enable people to lift with a straight back.  He hires his vans.

I use an open WW2 "jeep bath" trailer with a back door cut into it,
normally used for logs.  The only virtue of this vehicle is that it
comes free, the astronomical cost of 1940s size replacement tyres
having been met by the wood-moving.  The floor level is much higher
than a van's and loading alone at home I have to build a ramp from
pallets and planks.  Including extracting it from my piano room, down
a hallway normally entirely choked with roll boxes to the ceiling,
the exercise takes around five hours.  At the hall end I operate on
Broadway rules.  Piles of old blankets and duffle coats protect the
pushup from the sawteeth of the trailer interior.

You may deduce I don't do too much of this, but the experience of
playing rolls to people who have never seen any player in their
lifetime is more than recompense.

I notice Douglas Henderson has cheated on the subject of this thread
and gone into roll suitability, so I'll follow suit.

Why he says cocktail lounge music doesn't attract people, I have to
conclude he has the wrong kind.  Here we have a whole series of rolls
from Malcolm Robinson of Southport: they swing; they contain tunes
young people recognise and are hugely popular.

The only time I find J Lawrence Cook really pulls in the interest, he's
pretending to be someone else.  I seem to be alone amongst pianolists
in the UK in finding his own post-1939 cod-Dixieland style unattractive.
In the 1920s and 30s, he played things straight like Max Kortlander and
was much better, at least for this kind of public.

Max K really had the knack, especially with the well-known old standards
that have stood the test of time and are instantly recognisable to
everyone.  You can play them up-tempo and massage the beat, or keep
them dreamy -- though shopping mall owners don't like that, as people
go into a trance and stop buying things.  In with this category go
straight treatments of the same pieces on Ampico, Welte Licensee or
Duo-Art, the tracker-bar being suitably masked to exclude the dynamic

Jazz on the "novelty ragtime" frontier is always a success, John
Farrell and Robin Frost being the stars.  The genuine stuff -- Jelly
Roll, James P Johnson, Jimmy Blythe and Fats Waller -- I might love
to death, but the public now find them a touch archaic.  This does not
stop me playing them.

The same goes for tuneful classical.  There is some superb salon
playing on Animatic (Ludwig Hupfeld) rolls which goes down very well
in food courts.  Quite a bit of Chopin can be passed off under this
category.  The great secret is not to change styles too swiftly.  Once
you've got someone interested, they need to hear more of the same.
I've several times had piano students come up and say something like,
"I'm not sure I can believe this music is coming out of those primitive
little holes".  That's all the accolade we need !

Dan Wilson

(Message sent Sun 20 Oct 2002, 20:29:00 GMT, from time zone GMT+0100.)

Key Words in Subject:  Performances, Pianola, Public, Transporting

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