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MMD > Archives > October 2010 > 2010.10.20 > 02Prev  Next

The Player Piano Trade Today
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  We've just about come full circle on the subject of the
player piano trade.  I no longer refer to it as an industry because,
well, it's no longer industrialized.  In fact, it's more like a group
of individual tradesmen who spend their lives meeting the needs of
those who can afford their services.

That might sound negative, but there are quite a number of other trades
that are in the same situation.  Just think about almost anything that
was made before around 1950 and you will find a dedicated group of
people who spend their time 'preserving' that item.

Nowadays, as is true in most of these niche trades, the 'industries'
we rely on to keep our trade alive make things that are very similar
to the things we need to keep working.  And, since we are a relatively
ingenious lot, we figure out how to turn 'this' into 'that' in order
to, as I say, "Keep The Music Rolling".

But, let's be painfully honest.  The number of people who do what we do
is not increasing -- in fact, it is diminishing.  Sadly, one or more of
us either 'retires' (a word that rarely leaves my lips) or passes on to
that great 'Music Hall in Heaven' every year.  For that reason, those
of us who remain are -- as some including myself have said over the
past year -- very busy.

My customers range in age from early twenties to early nineties.  It's
like a bell curve, with the majority of customers being in the 45-65
years age group.  However, whereas I rarely got calls to travel more
than about 50 miles in the first 25 years of my career, that distance
has been increasing for the past 12 years because there are fewer
technicians still working, and some of them are no longer interested
in traveling or willing to travel.

This is probably a rather crass comparison, the but the trade sort of
reminds me of my 90-year old mother-in-law.  She had a stroke in 2008
and, according to the doctors, she is in better 'health' now than she
was before the stroke.  In other words, her heart, lungs, and other
vital organs are working very well.  But, she's on a feeding tube, she
can't walk, and she requires 24-7-365 care.

In fact, those of us who are still in this trade are the "care takers",
and as long as we survive we will have plenty of work to do because the
sad truth is that there aren't that many people who are willing to take
care of people or things that are aging.  (We live in an age where most
things are thrown away, not fixed.)

Now, turn the clock ahead fifty years.  I'd venture to say that the
majority (50% or more) of us in this group will be past our days of
working for a living.  In fact, we'll likely be just a memory.  But,
the instruments we've restored, baring some catastrophe, will still
be here! And no doubt, there will be a group of people who love them
and care for them with the same zeal and enthusiasm as we do today.
So, what is our responsibility?

First, and foremost, it is to document everything before the
information gets lost or forgotten (yes, we do forget things as we
get older).  Second, it is to do the best work we can possibly do under
the circumstances.  Third, if we have the opportunity, we must teach
others what we know.  We cannot, for the sake of the future, afford to
keep anything to ourselves.  Even if it might seem insignificant to us
now, it could be invaluable at some point in the future.  So, keep
writing articles for the Mechanical Music Digest!  Someday, someone
will thank you...

By the way, today I worked on a player that the owner picked up for
free last week.  After just one hour of work, we were pumping the
pedals and making music that filled the neighborhood.  (The piano was
in his garage.)  A young man was passing by and he stopped to listen
to the music.  I invited him over, and he was instantly fascinated with
the mechanism.  He had never seen or heard a player piano. :-)

John A Tuttle
Brick, New Jersey, USA

(Message sent Wed 20 Oct 2010, 18:51:32 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Piano, Player, Today, Trade

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