I had the privilege of working with this delightful man as a fellow
pianist in the early '80s at an AMICA convention, 1980, I believe.
In circa 1950 he had composed and arranged a tongue-in-cheek version
of "Chopsticks", to be played on a radio broadcast by actress-pianist
Diana Lynn, who was his niece (according to musical lore). This was
a concerto-like composition with orchestral accompaniment, organized
in theme-and-variations fashion.
He approached me at the 1979 convention, saying that he was looking
for a pianist to play the reduced orchestral score on a second piano,
aiming for the 1980 convention. I jumped at the chance to participate
since, in my eyes, this man was a historical icon in the radio and
musical world. He was in his 80s at the time, but his mind and his
fingers were still very active and adept.
He sent me a copy of the score for my perusal, reduced to a two-piano
arrangement. It certainly was playable, but more interesting was an
idea that was germinating. At that time I had been heavily involved
in arranging Ampico piano rolls, so why not make a drafting-board
arrangement of the yet-to-be-performed duet, making copies available
for sale as convention souvenirs? After all, I had a whole year to
complete the project.
The idea proved to be do-able, and it was great fun on my part -- what
an inventive mind he had! This was "Chopsticks" as it might have been
written by Rachmaninoff, Cole Porter, Chopin, and some un-named Broadway
I sent the master roll (i.e., hand-punched) to the Malones at Play-Rite,
requesting a run of 20 copies to be made and delivered to me at the
convention. Wiser than me, John and Bill Malone instead doubled the
order to 40.
After the performance on two nested 9-foot grands at the final banquet,
we offered them for sale, to be autographed by Armbruster and me. Those
rolls quickly sold out and we took orders from conventioneers for about
Now, 25 years later, perhaps another recutting of this roll would be of
interest. Richard and Janet Tonnesen, here in the Dallas area, have
the facilities to do so, and I'd suggest that interested parties
contact them or me.
So, that's my contribution to Robert Armbruster lore.
[ Terry Smythe wrote in 1995.07.04 MMDigest: "Back in 1980 at the
[ AMICA Convention in Pasadena, Bill Flynt and Robert Armbruster did
[ a gorgeous duet on a pair of concert grands of 'Variations on a Theme
[ of Chopsticks'. It was something that Robert arranged back in the
[ 1940s for his niece for a birthday gift I recall. My recollection
[ is that Robert's niece was Diana Lynn, a movie star of the era, the
[ same era when Robert was Music Director of MGM (?) Studios."
[ An orchestral version of 1977 is called "Variations in Miniature
[ on Chopsticks". -- Robbie