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MMD > Archives > September 2011 > 2011.09.14 > 02Prev  Next

How to Tune a Player Piano Out of Tune
By Myron Duffield

I have been following the postings regarding this subject with
great interest throughout the past few weeks.  This story may not
add anything to the topic but it may be a little relative.

In 1960 we lived in the Pittsburgh area and did not have a piano.
Someone at the office referred me to a friend who wanted to rid
themselves an old upright, so one winter night about 9 o'clock my
wife and I went to retrieve a piano.  (You need to know my wife;
she's 90 pounds soaking wet!)  Up and down the hills of Pittsburgh
we went, pulling a small utility trailer.

We found the house and piano on the side of a hill in north
Pittsburgh.  We wrestled the piano out of the house, across the porch,
down the steps, upon the trailer, and laid it down on its back,
hopefully to navigate the hills of Pittsburgh safely without it falling
over.  We drove the 10 or 15 miles home and left the piano on the
trailer over night as it was late and we just couldn't manage anymore
right then.

The next day we moved the piano into the house and identified it as a
Vose & Sons.  The entire piano was black inside and out.  It had
survived in Pittsburgh through the years of the coal fired steel
industry, where everything in Pittsburgh was black.  This piano was
black inside, outside, and all over and just sounded like a good old
upright piano so we didn't give much thought to whether it was in or
out of tune.

Around 1970 we were relocated to Cleveland, Ohio, along with our old
upright which by the way had still not been tuned yet.  During this
same period we had a friend who was a professional entertainer, who
toured the country, billed as the "Rajah of Rag Time".  His specialty
was ragtime rooms, Joplin rags, honky tonk, rinky tink, bar room and
saloon style piano playing.

Through the 1970s and 80s the Rajah continually pleaded to buy our
piano as it was just the sound he needed.  He had just never found
another piano that sounded just like this one.  Keep in mind this piano
still had not been tuned since we hauled it home on its back in
Pittsburgh in 1960.

We began using this piano at barbershop shows, parties, churches,
schools, musical shows -- hauling it in out, back and forth, loading
and unloading and it still hadn't been tuned yet.  People would contact
us and ask if they could borrow the piano for various events.

This piano apparently had what is now being referred to, by some,
as that "magic" sound.  (Had we thought, we could have called it
"That Old Black Magic Piano"!)

Now for the rest of the story.  One day in the late 1980s a friend of
ours stopped for a visit; I was not at home at the time.  He said to my
wife, "Guess what I have been doing lately.  I have been learning how
to tune pianos.  While I am waiting, I think I'll tune your piano and
surprise him when he gets home."

Apparently someone along the way had convinced him that all pianos need
tuning so he thought he was doing us a favor.  So guess what -- no more
"magic".  The "magic" was gone and it has never returned.

We have honky-tonked a dozen pianos since then, with a dozen different
methods of which some have been mentioned, but none has ever spoken with
the same "magic" as the old black upright piano from Pittsburgh which had
never been tuned.  By the way, 50 years later, we still have that piano
in storage and we wonder if the "magic" is still in there somewhere.

Myron Duffield
Columbus, Ohio

(Message sent Wed 14 Sep 2011, 18:49:09 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  How, Out, Piano, Player, Tune

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