The grand piano is one of the most complex instruments in the world. Musicians who master the piano are capable of coaxing from it sounds ranging from delicate and fragile to thunderous. They can do so because the instrument and its hundreds of intricate moving parts, dozens of rugged strings, and several large sturdy structural pieces are well maintained. So while a masterful concert soloist or gifted jazz artist receives praise and respect from music-loving audiences, few outside of the pianists themselves give credit to the people whose multi-disciplinary skills and knowledge maintain these intricate instruments.
WFSU-TV explores what goes into becoming a top piano technician in Keys & Hammers. A production crew spent over a year with two graduate students, Amy Porter and Jennifer Roberts; under the tutelage of Master of Arts in Piano Technology director Anne Garee, the students each maintained fifty of FSU’s pianos and tuned harpsichords weekly. The most rigorous of their assignments – and a main focus of this special – is the total reconstruction of a 1954 Mason & Hamlin grand piano.
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Pin Block: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNFYFgk-86o&feature=youtu.be
When Garee and her students discovered the piano, it was being stored on its side and in need of major renovation. It’s one of two identical instruments purchased by Florida State University in 1954. The second piano has been used by WFSU-TV in various productions over the years, including the station’s current music production, outloud.
In what was effectively their thesis project, Porter and Roberts essentially rebuilt the instrument piece by piece. Each component presented its own challenges, and called upon all of their talents, plus some they had never practiced. They honed their woodworking skills in creating a new pin block, dug into the physics of action reweighting and rebalancing, and used chemicals and solvents to finish the hammers. It involved a lot of intricate work, a lot of data analysis, and a lot of perspiration and elbow grease as well.
When the piano was ready, it was transported to WFSU-TV for a debut performance alongside its sibling. The Mastrogiacomo Duo (husband and wife team Leonard and Norma) led the performance, then, the newly renovated piano stood alone for performances by faculty members Heidi Louise Williams and Bill Peterson. The program also contains a performance from graduate piano student Xu Hui, who helped test the piano prior to the studio engagement.
Keys & Hammers is another in a series of cooperative efforts between WFSU-TV and the College of Music at the Florida State University.