As one of few people with a PhD in piano rolls, I try to attend as
many academic gatherings about piano rolls as finances will allow.
The most recent was at Cornell University, in which the topic was
largely about player pianos and rolls, not reproducing piano rolls.
This event highlighted the lack of understanding among academics
about the difference between these types of piano rolls. But all
is not lost. Stanford University is currently planning a symposium
to be held in April 2018 which will be focused on the very aspects
Marc Widuch refers to.
Stanford is not the only university interested in reproducing piano
rolls. Bern University in Switzerland has a group of dedicated
researchers involved with Hupfeld and Welte piano rolls, researchers
at Barcelona are similarly occupied. I am aware of a number of
academics in Germany who are researching Hupfeld, surely the most
complex of all the companies of the time. In short, there is an
increasing interest in piano rolls among musicologists, especially
now that many of these historical recordings are becoming available
as MIDI files or sound files. I am responsible for some of these
and researchers often contact me to obtain these recordings.
The concept of a global piano roll convention is compelling, and
I would definitely support such an initiative. It is important,
however, that guidelines are produced, as the topic of piano rolls is
far wider than many people think. I have concentrated on reproducing
piano rolls, but I am aware that an even wider area of specialty is
the player piano roll. My Cornell University experience suggests both
topics at the one convention would be overwhelming.
I believe that the future for piano rolls and the like belongs now
to academia. Collectors and enthusiasts have taken us to the point
where there is not much more that can be done. We are indebted to
these erstwhile people, and their collective knowledge must not be
underestimated. Unfortunately, being erstwhile does not always mean
an enthusiast has adopted the best way to seek answers, and there
are many examples of misinformation published on the internet by
enthusiasts. Academics are by nature mistrustful, and tend to seek
answers through extensive research.
A global convention would bring together a disparate group of
academics, private researchers and specialists (including collectors).
Questions are where would this be held, and in what language?
Regardless, count me in, as I believe it is high time something like
this was organised.
Some collectors rightly view universities as the death of collections,
but this is changing. If there is to be a future for piano rolls and
related instruments, it is institutions, not individual collectors.
Our time has come and is passing rapidly if the obituaries are any
indication. So, I agree entirely with Marc Widuch. Bring it on!
Padstow, NSW, Australia
[ I hope that other types of perforated music aren't neglected,
[ such as coin-operated music and automatic music that "replaces
[ an orchestra of ten musicians!" These instruments at commercial
[ venues entertained far more listeners than did the highly
[ advertised reproducing pianos. -- Robbie