ARTCRAFT Newsletter #10 (9-4-2001)



A Command Performance for the Pianola!
PIANOLA Concert #10 Sunday: September 2, 2001
An Extra Performance, by Special Request!

    While we expected that the 9th Pianola concert, held on August 25th, was the "last" for 2001 ... the management of Searsport Shores asked me to do a 10th, which was scheduled for Sunday, September 2nd. "Nothing succeeds like success," they say ... and so enough selections were brought for an extra musicale. Among the titles performed were the latest roll, CANADIAN CAPERS based on the 1930 Arden & Ohman Victor Record complete with "Kick the Disklavier" sound effects, interpolated into the long-playing arrangement.

    (Note: the original 1915 score has  places marked, where the pianist is supposed to "strike" the lower panel of an upright piano ... and the 2-piano recording from '30 has cymbals for this effect. Since the Yamaha of America people no longer support the circuit boards and other critical parts for their older model Disklaviers, according to a writer in the Mech. Music Digest, it seemed natural to "kick" one of those non-working solenoid players, and save the precious, long-lasting Pianola! The brand-new arrangement simulates the cymbals, to a certain extent, and this release for Ampico and 88-Note players will have "Disklaiver kick" stamps, in the critical places, in case a 1988 to 1991 model, with no repair parts available, today, happens to be around the lively pneumatic player!)

    Due to the dry atmosphere, with the coming of Autumn, our 'Reprotone' upright performed better than usual, especially with respect to the crisp staccato notes in our Interpretive Arrangements. FOR KANSAS CITY by David T. Roberts was paired with his ROBERTO CLEMENTE, performed previously ... and George Gershwin's BY STRAUSS made its debut at Searsport Shores. Particularly effective were the pseudo-Welte "crescendo trills" (2 in number), which the pedal player executed to perfection, in the Gershwin performance. My 2-piano Myra Hess transcription of Bach's CANATATA 147: CHORALE ('35) was premiered, here, also, and was very well received. There was no problem in keeping the music "smooth and flowing", to quote Miss Hess' written instructions, thanks to the responsive Story & Clark action, especially with the ideal atmospheric conditions, right now.

    An interesting aspect to this 'extra' concert was the appreciative audience, which happened to have more than the average number, who were connected with the music field. Two people told me stories, after the finale, about sailing with Pete Seeger, of The Weavers, and also about Lee Hays part of the same folk group (which the McCarthy anti-communist witch hunts put "out of business" in the 'Fifties). Another told of Paul Robeson, singing in the Midwest, later in his career. A lady, who had attended any number of my recitals, turned out to be a first chair for the French Horn section of a symphony orchestra. Finally, another lady said, "I finally figured out that YOU were the person who gave me and my husband a tour of The Musical Wonder House, over 30 years ago. You answered every one of his technical questions, and we never forgot that experience of being there. You were thinner then, also."

    Nothing topped the 9th concert, but this one came close. Labor Day weekend has been a 'bust' on the Coast of Maine, which is why about 1/3 of the chairs were empty at my extra performance. We've had good weather, all Summer, and lower gasoline prices than in previous years, so the economy has to be the reason why "vacancy" signs are on many of the fancier inns around Camden, while the traffic is "just the same" as during other times of year. Given these recession elements, I feel very fortunate in having so many full houses, during the series of concerts, here at Searsport Shores.

    A few nights ago, we were treated to a Scottish bagpiper, who performed for 45 minutes, on the rocky shores, under a foggy moon ... with white capped waves lapping against the rocks. He even closed with "pibroch" the classical pipe music with many doublings and variations, for a solo piper. I was amazed to discover (having been in a California bagpipe group, back in the early 'Fifties) that NEW MUSIC is being created for this kind of instrument. There are syncopations and an unusual "slur" (adapted, he said, from Irish bagpipes), for some of the contemporary music for this instrument. My old pipes have kangaroo and sheepskin bags, but his was "Gore-Tex" and larger, in order to control the Irish-style 'waver', on the modern compositions. Evidently, even the Scottish bagpipe is experiencing a Renaissance, today, with the old music being played, along with challenging new virtuoso pieces as well. It reminded me of Interpretive Arrangements, when compared to the formula fare of the past. There's a move to "push" old instruments, like the Bagpipes and the Pianola, to new horizons. (Just ran into my pipes, the other day, a set of Lawrie/Henderson ones, but ... my minimal skills for playing them have evaporated with the following years!)

    Some of the material, below, concerns not only players, but my American-made Norcold refrigerator (the 3rd since 1997, for my VW Camper). I've been having trouble with it, but eventually discovered after "camping out" in the Recreational Vehicle parking lot, for the dealership that it seemed to run perfectly, everywhere, except Wiscasset and Searsport Shores. Upon returning to our seacoast area, I discovered that the Norcold also behaved when in a nearby shopping center, in the sun ... above the water ... and away from foliage. The upshot of this is that when the Eurovan Camper is in a terrain "dip" with extreme humidity, the leveling becomes more critical AND ... a window has to be opened for the "heat absorption" system to "breathe". I experimented, here in Searsport, and finally discovered the correct combination of roof shingles to put under the front wheels and the amount a rear window needs to be slid open, before the Norcold returns to the near-freezing level, it's supposed to maintain. Solving this problem was so similar to Pianola difficulties, as the variables were many and the information (from the dealerships and Volkswagen) was sub-minimal, in my opinion.

    [My favourite vague line from Aeolian comes from their skimpy Instruction book for the Electric Duo-Art: "Learn one thing at a time" (when discussing the Pianola levers) What thing? Tempo, Accompaniment, Theme Graduation, Accent Levers ... ? Nothing is specified, when all Pianolists learn, quickly, that maintaining a Mezzo-Forte playing level with any amount of notes being struck has to be mastered, instinctively, BEFORE one can get involved with phrasing, the Soft Pedal, the Themodist, the Sustaining Pedal, and the other interpretive aspects of the versatile 'reproducing' player action. In light of this, it's hard to blame Norcold or the RV dealerships for saying "we don't know" ... in many cases.]

    So, this Newsletter ends with the "official" 2 last concerts, plus a preface about my night in a parking lot, as you'll read, below.

    The next Edition should return to the subjects about players and perforated rolls, established previously.

    This has been a hectic Summer, to say the least!

    Best wishes from the Coast of Maine,
                                            (signed) Douglas Henderson  [9-3-2001]

PS: Here's our new 'family member', who's keeping us "up" at nights - http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/jennydog.htm


[Return to the PIANOLA Concert Menu]

ARTCRAFT Newsletter #10  (8-28-2001)

Greetings, Player-Piano enthusiasts,

    We "jumped the gun", this time, and posted - before leaving Wiscasset, for "A Night in Auburn, Maine" - the articles submitted to The Mechanical Music Digest (MMD), about the final concerts for the Season, at Searsport Shores. Thus, if you accessed this Webpage (http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/issue10.htm), as a reader of our mass mailings, the reviews for Pianola concerts #8 (8-18-2001) and #9 (8-25-2001) were already available to you, prior to my writing the preface.

    We really like having moved the ARTCRAFT Newsletter from the Microsoft server to our own laptops, running everything from the C:\ drives in Eudora's option for a mailing list. Everything's so simple and immediate, proving - once again - that 'doing-it-yourself' is the best way to go!

    Now for that reference to "A Night in Auburn" ... which sounds festive, doesn't it?

    Well, this is not some wonderful event, but happens to be a situation where I'm trying to prove that my THIRD gas-electric refrigerator, in our 1997 VW Camper, is "defective". The only way to avoid leaving the Camper overnight in an RV dealership parking lot (which led to things disappearing in our old 1981 VW, admittedly not in Maine), was to "stay in the van" ... for one or two days' time, depending upon what develops by sunrise. Since we've got 3 German Dometic© models, all working, in our other trailers and the '81 Camper, this series of 'lemons' from Norcold© ("Made with Pride in the USA") must be the result of zero quality control. My warranty is still in effect, having had to purchase the third one, myself, last October, shortly after the guarantee ran out on the 2nd one, which Winnebago installed in the Volkswagen chassis, after the original one failed.

    Thus, I am writing this in the Eurovan, playing classical music and have just enjoyed a light supper on one the folding tables, all in the space of my vehicle. A laptop computer and radio now occupy the eating space. The top is "popped", and all the screens are open, allowing the evening breezes to waft through the interior. Scenery? Well ... I'm surrounded by Winnebago Rialtas and an 'army' of giant Recreational Vehicles, many big enough to cause a Greyhound bus to blush. However, I parked at an angle to not only catch the wind, and the setting sun, but to view the road, where cars and trucks head for the rolling Maine foothills ... so it's tranquil and eery, to a certain extent. I'm the only person "alive" in this yard, full of squeaky-clean, shiny "houses on wheels" ... and somehow, camping in the little Volkswagen, with the fabric roof up - to catch the gentle evening wind - it's like being in a Ghost Town, only everything's new and not bucolic, as in the High Sierras of California. (Note: The Eurovan Camper is not "little" when on its own, measuring 17 feet in length, and weighing approximately 3 tons! However, when surrounded by leviathan RVs, the diminutive term applies, in this unusual setting.)

    The Norcold-Winnebago dealership has no locked fences, so all is open to the passing traffic, hence my decision to stay in the vehicle, something which would be difficult if ARTCRAFT Music Rolls weren't 100% on laptop computers, from our 'start' in this field, back in '93. I can still correspond (via cellular 'phone connections) and typeset the Website layouts, which is the nature of work for this evening.

***********************************

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE 9 'SEARSPORT SHORES' CONCERTS, IN PLAYER-PIANO 'HISTORY'

    The logistics, behind my decision to "come out of the house" (once more) and bring a 'perfect condition' Pianola to the public, are daunting - in retrospect. That the Saturday night audiences kept growing in size ... and enthusiasm ... is something which cannot be understated, in this era of media giants forcing off-key junk music on everyone ... packaging videos of wailing songs, which are rarely melodic. The effect of this corporate sound is more of a numbing "audio drug", than something being created for musical pleasure, as in the days before Elvis and the Beatles. Thus, when so much of the public lives with "sonic wallpaper" and ugly nonstop broadcasting sounds, having developed a tin ear, through the fare orchestrated by mass marketers, it's close to being a minor miracle that a 50" high, richly-toned upright piano could transfix the attention of so many people, again and again.

    The piano needs no amplification, and it doesn't "die" like electronic instruments, once the circuit boards and components are no longer available. The piano equipped with a pneumatic player action, be it pedal or electric, is - when controlled by a musically-inclined person - a vibrant and engaging instrument, as I've proven on the concert stage and in fairs or events (like Boston's "First Night"), countless times.

    Still, it's a warm feeling when something which is really 19th Century design (made of wood, primarily) rivets an audience. This was especially true for the final concerts in the series of 9, as you'll read below. (For example, how often will members of the audience "stay around" ... for almost as long as the concert took to perform ... asking questions and talking about pianos, or the mechanical players, with which they were associated for so many years?)

    We are in the 21st Century, and things are changing, though not all for the best.

    Only minutes before I was to begin the last Pianola concert, a PO letter, handwritten by Henry Z. Steinway, arrived, telling me about the Chapter 11 filing at the Baldwin Piano Co., their rival manufacturer for many years. (For our numerous foreign readers, this is a legal manoeuvre to avoid bankruptcy.  Some companies, hopefully Baldwin, can 'work out' of their financial situation and survive, albeit in a downsized form, in many cases.) Actually, I already knew about the demise of Baldwin, from several technicians, who subscribe to our Newsletters, and also from sources on the Internet, which carried the unhappy information, in greater detail.

    Henry also repeated, again, that he thought that the piano industry is just about "gone", and seemed to be limping along with MIDI solenoid players being installed in  S&S grands, for "furniture that played music" ... the same marketing approach which these instruments took, when radio and other diversions came along, at the end of the 'Twenties!

    Lois Konvalinka and I have considered the 7' and 9' (SD-10A) Baldwin grands to be among the finest sounding instruments we've ever heard, when a good example is found. (Pianos vary.) The "singing treble" notes are especially to our liking, and we still remember trying an SD-10A in Portland, Maine, where a total of 7 touches - which "sustained" - could be achieved in the top 2 octaves. Generally, a quality piano, including the Steinway D concert grand, has 3 dynamics up there: M.F., P. and 'skip'. This was not true with the 'better' manifestations of the American-made Baldwins, in those two sizes, designed for performing artists, to a great extent.

    You can read about the musical triumph which the final concert was, below. Shortly after returning to Wiscasset, I downloaded the E-Mail, and received two interesting letters ... one about Baldwin and the other describing the Disklavier solenoid player, that lackluster instrument which never lived up to the musical claims (and often false promotions, when it came to MIDI scanning of "'rediscovered' artists on 'piano rolls'"), in my opinion.

    [Particularly offensive were the Disklavier hacks promoting the "Ghost of Gershwin" and the "Ghost of 'Jelly Roll' Morton"; the "Ghost of Horowitz" publicity was short-lived and died on the vine, perhaps due to legal complaints, since the pianist absolutely hated his Duo-Art rolls, from the very start. He claimed that he never made made them, and this is probably true, if you compare the Aeolian rolls with his Victor Records of the same period, featuring some of the same selections. See http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/rolls3.htm#If someone approached Vladimir Horowitz for more information on this "artist rip off" topic, perpetuated by The Aeolian Company, in his day.]

    A loyal ARTCRAFT customer and a musician/piano technician, who commands my respect, sent me the following words, by E-Mail:

Hi,
    I spoke with a (forcibly) retired engineer from Baldwin, today.  He said that due to the extremely POOR library and the consistently unavailable library for ordering, not to mention the fact that the higher ups would NOT listen to those with experience in the mechanical music field about MUSICAL SELECTIONS, the digital player piano market is finding itself in a (predictable) slump.  SOUND FAMILIAR???  Crappy discs = NO SALES.  WAKE UP piano companies!  However, it is too late.  The bloom is off the rose.
    That says it all for some of the solenoid players of today, doesn't it? The listener, at best, is completely divorced from the production of MUSIC, and so the piano is merely a second-rate "speaker system", something which could be achieved far better with modern audio. (In the 'Twenties and 'Thirties,  the electric players went into 'long-playing' music, through a variety of methods ... large spools, slower roll speeds and complicated 'ferris wheel' changers ... but never really competed with the ubiquitous radio, in that 'background music' market!)

     Here's another response, this time from another ARTCRAFT customer who has both a "reproducing" grand piano and also a responsive upright pedal player:

Hi,
    How ironic that I am reading and replying to your email about your latest player roll concert, as I listen to a wispy and mushy Disklavier (which has a Yamaha piano attached to it). It certainly doesn't grab one's attention. People are dining, drinking, talking, and walking about while the thing tries to play.

    Yet, the thing is roped off (with red velvet ropes) like it was some sort of museum object. The sign says "Player Piano - Please do not touch." Don't touch a player piano? Since when?

    All I can say is that these people don't know what they're missing. The music is barely listenable and the keys are moving half-heartedly. Can you imagine what a *real* player piano with a good pianolist would sound like in a 9 story tall hotel lobby?!

    Both these writers, mentioning Baldwin and the Disklavier, interpret perforated music rolls, as I do. Both know the 'joy' which an acoustic piano can give both performer and listener, when the music rolls are challenging ... and when a responsive player is under the control of a good Pianolist. By contrast, the Baldwin and Yamaha electronic players merely "rattle keys" and ... their libraries are as dull, in most cases, as the old commercial rolls were, in their era.

    Remember, when the piano industry "came back"? - after the '29 stock market crash: only non-players returned. The baby grands, bungalow uprights and the "newest models" the spinets/consoles/verticals of the mid-'Thirties were promoted as keyboard instruments ONLY, save a very few pianos equipped with the Ampico or 'Recordo' electrically-pumped expression player actions. Had the rolls of the 'Teens and the 'Twenties been like the Interpretive Arrangements of today, Pianola history might have been different. The pneumatic player is a great 'educator', and to master it is not unlike being an organist or an orchestra conductor; the skill is totally different from being a keyboard pianist, so what is learned can apply to both uses of the pianoforte.

    Well, the 9 concerts by the 'Reprotone' player are over, now. It was exhausting to stick to this schedule, with the Studio being 100 miles South of Searsport, on the meandering, scenic coastal highway, a two-lane road which takes about 1½ to 2 hours of driving time. I drove 1800 miles to bring "new music, each week" to Searsport Shores, and the library of Interpretive Arrangements was never exhausted!  Tuning, at the start of the Season, cost $135.00, but this was 'worth it' to project the fullest-possible sonority, even if the average listener isn't that aware of a piano that is slightly out-of-register, a condition which the seaside atmosphere often imposes on both (wooden) piano and player actions.

    The performances caused ARTCRAFT Roll shipping/processing to grind to a halt, admittedly. I must thank, once again, my patient customers, who are in the large and growing 'backorder' stack.

    Finally, it still mystifies me that the Mechanical Music Digest (a name which suggests "mechanical music") refused to publish any of the 9 descriptive articles in our important series of Pianola performances. This was breathtaking virtuoso music, not 'ho-hum' droning rolls, which reinforce the negative stereotype of the mechanical piano. The 'Reprotone' performances fascinated the young and old, as well as some educators with university/college associations. (How often does this happen with a player instrument of any type, modern solenoid "key boppers" included?)  Finally, the music was presented under the auspices of an Arranger-Pianolist, the person who actually "created" the perforated music, which the audience was hearing. The interpretations were authoritative and immediate, and there were no "Phony-Busoni" allusions from the old days, or the false "Ghost of Gershwin" claims of our time. Music reigned, and always makes a lasting impression.

    Charles and Theodore Steinway always said, "Keep up the advertising, even in bad times, for people only buy a piano once in their lifetime, and you've got to be 'there' when that time comes." (This is a paraphrase of their frequent, documented statements, on the necessity for continuous promotion.)

    The Steinway family knew what it was doing ... but the player industry seems to have missed the boat, time and again. Better to have released 1 or 2 stellar rolls per month than 20 to 30 'dogs', which the writer, above, who discussed the Baldwin player, aptly calls, "dronola" arrangements.

    Night is falling in my Ghost Town, here in the Eurovan Camper. The evening breezes are a bit chilly, so the window screens will be replaced with curtains, in short order. Now, I know what this Pianolist in a giant RV lot situation feels like, "It's the TWILIGHT ZONE!" - that venerable television series by Rod Serling, where one was always in a empty, vacant community, the sole "living thing" amongst monoliths of steel and concrete. I seem to be a 'tent' (on rubber tires) among the fleets of 'space ships', isolated in a never-never land of mobile living. It's strange, this night, being spent to solve a refrigerator problem ... but ... with the portable radio (featuring PBS-TV sound, when desired), selected Cassette tapes, and the sounds of the passing traffic, the eery asphalt 'campsite' has a certain charm of its own. Perhaps this is a 3-D 'surround sound' version of that fondly remembered Rod Serling series ...

    Best wishes from 'Outer Space' (in Auburn, Maine) -
        Regards, (signed) Douglas Henderson

PS: Keep in mind that I played many more titles on the final 2 concerts than were described, below. FATA-MORGANA (Duo-Art), BROADWAY RAG, among other scintillating titles from the ARTCRAFT library, were presented ... but ... there just wasn't the space to chronicle everything!

ARTCRAFT Music Rolls
http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/
 


PIANOLA Concerts #1 through #4
[Click Here]
PIANOLA Concerts #5 and #6
[Click Here]
PIANOLA Concert #7
[Click Here]

PIANOLA Concert #8
PIANOLA Concert #9
The final Concert in the Season for 2001, featuring the 1929 'Reprotone' player and ARTCRAFT "Interpretive Arrangements"
PIANOLA Concert #10
A special extra performance!


PIANOLA Concert #9 - Searsport Shores (8-25-2001)

[Return to the PIANOLA Concert Menu]

Hello MMD readers,

        Fall was in the air, here on Penobscot Bay, and the brisk breezes of the changing Season began to pass over our glen by the sea. The waves seemed to have a few more white caps, and the flowers - even those on our trailer's wooden porch - appeared to be on the verge of losing their bright Summer hues.

        Concert #8 had been such a success, in itself, that I began to believe that the August 18th musicale was the zenith of the 9 concerts being presented in the campground's large recreation hall. That gave me in the impetus to return to the Studio and requisition even MORE unusual, if not outright flashy, music rolls ... just to maintain the momentum of the previous recital.

        "The Ice Man Cometh", and indeed he did. The management of Searsport Shores had purchased more folding chairs, to accommodate the growing interest in the ARTCRAFT concerts ... and as these were being set up in a semi-circle, for the visitors, who were arriving in great numbers than before, there were the "clank" - "thud" - "crash" and "rong-kuh" sounds of ice bags being unloaded from a large truck! The hall has a large garage door, of sorts, which accesses a side road, and this was used not only for the arrival of the 1929 Story & Clark 'Reprotone' player, but for deliveries ... and ventilation - on really warm days. We started about 5 minutes later, to give the delivery men time to get the bags of ice cubes into a large freezer, at the other side of the room, from where the Player-Piano was situated. (And here, you thought I was going to quote Eugene O'Neill!)

        Two super-colossal Interpretive Arrangements started the show, for, by now, all the seats were full, and the larger-than-before audience appeared to be hanging on to every accent and subtle performance effect. STORMIN' THE CASTLE, the modern 'stomp' by Bob Ault, was paired up with a contrasting technical arrangement, my roll of the FACTOTUM ARIA ("Figaro") from the BARBER OF SEVILLE, based on the two-piano Luboschutz & Nemenoff arrangement of years gone by. This latter roll uses every note in the piano keyboard, from low A (key #1) to high C (key #88) ... and just about everything else in between.

        For several decades, collectors who've heard me perform this on the instruments at our museum (The Musical Wonder House) asked me to release the roll ... but ... I arranged it for my abilities of "pushing the player action" to its maximum, so always said that I'd re-master the roll for public consumption. Then, some of the wild tempo changes and alterations for the perforation lengths, plus the addition of our 'live' sustaining pedal score, would make it a challenging release for any home, which possesses a well-regulated instrument. (Perhaps this Winter should be the time to accomplish the task, since 2002 will mark my Half Century in the creative field of music roll arrangements. [How can 50 years slide by so rapidly?])

        The applause for these 2 curtain raisers was several notches beyond anything I've experienced at Searsport Shores, for there was a back-and-forth "energy" between the production of music and the audience's reaction. This can't be explained, but I've experienced it before, especially on some concerts with The Arcady Music Society (Masanobu Ikemiya, pianist-director) ... and, in particular, on one night, in an acoustically 'perfect' church in Dover-Foxcroft, when Mark Lutton's arrangement of LION TAMER RAG was premiered. (So far, the response has never equaled that deafening level, but the Arcady audience was over 200 people in magnitude, so there was a physical 'force' involved.) I suspect this is the "magic of the theatre" or "stage" which attracts to many to become performers; there is a 'feeling', a 'love' or 'something' which takes place between the artist and the audience, when the all elements are right. Whatever makes this "magic", I'll never know, but am positive that ONLY my virtuoso Interpretive Arrangements (plus a very few select rolls from the past, as mentioned in prior reviews for these 9 concerts) are able to "deliver the goods" in return for thunderous praise.

        Ragtime was performed, again, some new material from the ARTCRAFT Studio, highlighted by Joseph Lamb's RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE. (On previous recitals, I performed my rolls of his CLEOPATRA RAG and the rare gem, DYNAMITE RAG, both sparkling arrangements.)  RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE draws from Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude" for the bass line, of the A-Theme, and has more of an engaging 'classical' sound, when compared to these other 2 rolls. (Masanobu Ikemiya, who performed CHIMES OF DIXIE by Lamb, another almost unknown number, sent me the score after his 'Ragtime Revue' in July, which we experienced in Bucksport. The syncopated composition, like RAGTIME NIGHTGALE, draws from older music, in this case DIXIE and Stephen Foster leitmotifs. I'm certain that CHIMES OF DIXIE will be arranged soon, perhaps in the perforating gazebo tent at Searsport Shores, during September, for it would make another crowd-pleasing roll ... just as Masanobu's keyboard performance was, for the fortunate audiences in July, during the Arcady Festival's 2001 concert tour.)

        Since I'd featured the "worst" of QRS, previously  and there's a lot of "boring" through "dreadful" to go around, with that commercial brand I decided to play something positive, being in the Ragtime mode, on this part of the program. The roll was Rudy Martin's opus, TIGER RAG (supposedly "played by Ferrante & Teicher"). In true Henderson fashion, I credited the arranger and didn't bother to mention who played the Melville Clark 'marking' piano, now in Buffalo, New York. Why? You can see/hear where total mathematics are taking place, especially when contrasted with the rubato-arpeggios, for which these duo-pianists are known. However, the clunky and erratic method of "recording" ruins the striking effects, so many of the highspeed passages overlapped, just as they would in a leaky tubular pneumatic pipe organ performance. The audience wasn't aware that the striking was several shades below ARTCRAFT standards, however, and so the pulsating accents, extracted from the phalanx of flying perforations, covered up for the technical slush, which has always told me to "re-master that arrangement" ... which, otherwise, is really fine. It's one of the best rolls in the current QRS Celebrity Series library, even if I consider Mr. Martin to be the creator of the arrangement.

        [Note: Ed Openshaw, a friend in this mechanical music field, told me, years ago, that he was visiting the Buffalo plant when Martin was working on the Master Roll for TIGER RAG. Since there was only one special Melville Clark piano, the two pianists took turns, while using a tape recorder to cue the other's interpretation. That meant 2 'recorded' slop-a-roony rolls were marked, and they didn't "match" each other, for a variety of reasons, which I won't get into, at this point. Martin was heard saying, when making 1 roll out of 2 'source' strips, "that won't sound right" or "this won't work" and "there are too many notes, so I'll remove a few". Obviously, parts of the arrangement were better when 100% mathematical. The ornate leader has, of course, the 2 famous pianists featured in the artwork, including the usual 'snake oil' hype which marred so much of the original electric expression player market (viz. the "reproducing" piano), and which is being shoveled up today for the MIDI-controlled solenoid player sales which, after a decade, appear to be diminishing, now. (When the last electro-magnets have burned out and the circuit boards are no longer available, as is the case with the earlier Disklaviers by Yamaha, pneumatics will again be the primary source for mechanical music. [You read it here, first!]) Thus, TIGER RAG was, for me, Martin, and not the two famous pianists. Similarly, 'Jelly Roll' Morton is Mary Allison with her Leabarjan #5 perforator, and not that famous jazz pianist. And so on ...

        The music, not the false history, is what did the "speaking" on August 25th, so LINNMANIA-MARSEILLAISE was the next roll on the roster. This 1989 composition by Björn Linnman was "written for the Duo-Art Pianola", a commission from Mr. Douglas Heffer, who has the 'Pneumatique Contemporaine' business in Paris ... and who builds/restores players as well. It was his idea to have the "Marseillaise" - the French National Anthem - composed with a set of wild variations that exploit every single facet of the Player-Piano. The roll, after all, was to be released during the Bicentennial of the French Revolution, and so would have to compete with the many 'stock' versions of the famous hymn. LINNMANIA-MARSEILLAISE breaks the "Marseillaise" into segments, and then buries them into musical styles, all of which are original variations by the talented Mr. Linnman. The gamut runs from Charles Ives to Rossini, to Spanish music, Art Tatum (yes!), Mozart-Haydn ... finally settling upon a crescendo-laden set of Russian (or perhaps Gypsy) melodic lines, again with the French song embedded into the texture. Strains of Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C-Sharp Minor" float into the finale, and the sweep of notes runs up to 14 in number, during many of the highspeed, spectacular passages. As I had expected, LINNMANIA-MARSEILLAISE brought an even more enthusiastic level of applause, for there's nothing like it on Earth. No other composer, from Malapiero to Saint-Saëns to Humperdinck to Stravinsky, who all wrote for the pneumatic player, ever approached the subject as "a Pianola composition". They just created large chords - mostly 'octave doubling' (as on a pipe organ) - and then "mailed-in their scores", which were laid out as muddy sheet music transfers, exactly like the rest of the roll libraries of their day. On the other hand, musician Linnman collaborated with Mr. Heffer in Paris, and so he knew what the pneumatic Player-Piano could and could not accomplish, composing accordingly.

        The Boston Globe wrote enthusiastically about the concert, featuring my American debut of this roll, back in '89, so ... while the audience in downtown Boston clapped to the maximum for all the ARTCRAFT Interpretive Arrangements, their arts reviewer, singled out the player instrument OVER the live ensemble works, for his column, published the next day. However, he then copped out and raved over the famous dead composers with their 'graph paper' arrangements, instead of this definitive composition, or the equally fascinating NEGRO HEAVEN by Otto Cesana, a 1933 player roll, which comes close to the Linnman opus, and also one of few old releases which really does attempt to exploit the attributes of the pneumatic action. (NEGRO HEAVEN was a "Symphonette" by the arranger for Radio City Music Hall, then under the direction of Erno Rapee, so was 'adapted' for the Ampico/Duo-Art expression players ... but wasn't 'composed for' the Pianola instrument, as this 1989 number was.)

        I had NEGRO HEAVEN with me, with the intent of playing it on the 'Reprotone', for the final concert, but there just wasn't enough time. (Remember, this '29 instrument can switch from standard full-scale 88-Note to "reproducing" rolls, in a flash. There was nothing in the old pedal player libraries, in those days, which even came close to the Cesana "Symphonette". That was another missed musical opportunity by the now-declining field of Player-Pianos! Only the few 'combination' pedal player instruments which had 80-key stacks, in most cases, could handle this wonderful expression roll, such as the Gulbransen or the Artist-Record player action, by the Kohler & Campbell enterprises. There was no plastic tape for the tracker bar, in the old days, and that prevented many pedal player owners from accessing some of the few treasures in the "reproducing" piano libraries, of which this was a prime example.)

        CHESTER THE CAT, by Ian Whitcomb, was shown and played, one final time. (The roll has pictures of the real cat and dog, which the composer had, at the time, plus "Meow" and "Woof" markings to synchronize with the confrontation, ending with a "Yip!", on the dog's part.) If you haven't experienced this terrific roll, you might say that it takes off where WHISTLER AND HIS DOG plus TEDDY BEARS' PICNIC have stopped. (Yes, CHESTER THE CAT One-Step is that good!)

        I had planned on playing a composition by George Hodgdon, of Boothbay Harbor, Maine called THE GAIETY MARCH, a 'Twenties roll custom-duplicated by The Leabarjan Company in Ohio, maker of my 3 arranging perforators. (For a short time, they produced rolls, usually created on their instruments in the field, but this was done by staff arranger, Miller, ostensibly from submitted sheet music.) Unfortunately, I didn't have my glasses on, when grabbing one of the few Leabarjan (tm) rolls on the Studio shelf, and wound up with a very boring tremolo ballad about the State of Oregon, which was rewound after a couple of measures, and which negated my introduction about the recently-deceased Maine composer, who was a landscape gardener, by profession. THE GAIETY MARCH was evidently popular in our region, for I've seen several production runs of this title, complete with different labels by the perforator factory in Hamilton, Ohio. It was never my intent to play more than 50% of the roll, since it repeats 100% at that point, a musical sin, in my opinion. If that piece is ever offered by ARTCRAFT, the first half will be retained, and the second half will be my own variations which "grow out of" the Miller-for-Hodgdon original roll, 'read' by the stylus on the #8-B model perforator. [See this URL and scroll down to see the 'reading' operation, from one roll to another: http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/studio.htm The #8-B is a heavy machine and much more massive then the two #5 models, used for most of the ARTCRAFT arrangements of today.]

        Since CHESTER THE CAT demonstrated the softest fade-out possible on a player instrument, one which usually transcends what a keyboard artist could accomplish (due to the 'hydraulic' nature of pneumatics lifting the abstracts on the piano action), I switched gears again and whipped out some Spanish selections, which demonstrated the "pulsating" accents, to enhance the rhythms of Interpretive Arrangements. Truly, few people have experienced a Player-Piano, of any type, going from soft to loud and back again, in the speed of a few notes, nor heard rolls which (through graduated striking) give an illusion of "left hand" or "right hand" at any given moment of the performance. (Stop an ARTCRAFT Roll on a tracker bar, and in most cases the staccato on one side of the Bass-Treble division is a shade "longer" than it is on the other half. Advance the roll an inch, and the situation usually reverses.) The "left/right" striking effects, caused by arranging-in the perforation lengths, including the staccato, is what makes an Interpretive Arrangement BEYOND any of the better offerings from the so-called 'Golden Age' of music rolls. The Pianolist can add tempo, dynamics and pedal shadings, but can't put into the performance a striking aura which hasn't been perforated, already!

        As the evening drew to a close, there were calls of "encore, encore!" ... and by that time, I was passing over the rolls lined up (on a nearby picnic table), in the program's order, which were selected in advance to bring Pianola concert #9 to a happy finish. Instead, I grabbed extra title after extra title, and there were MANY ... since the aim of this series was not only to present the artistic side of pneumatic player actions and their rolls, but to PERFORM ENTIRELY NEW MATERIAL EVERY WEEK, which is possible with our Interpretive Arrangements.

        (Each roll is a separate "project", with different kinds of perforation lengths and a matching paper travel speed, so one ARTCRAFT Roll doesn't sound "just like" another one, which can't be said for old QRS, Aeolian, Ampico and the bulk of the other roll factories from the past! If you play old releases, it's essential to switch labels and years of production, to keep away that grey 'sameness' which they possess, when presented back-to-back.)

        One of the long-playing rolls which was presented toward the end of the program was THE FLOOR SHOW sequence from my 'Seventies arrangement of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, by Richard O'Brien. These were never released, but perforated for use at our museum, mentioned above, and ultimately for a long-playing phonograph album (an LP) called "The Steinway Pianola Meets Rocky Horror". (Today, that record, in mint condition, has sold for upwards of $250.00, on eBay, I'm told, and it's only about 25 years old! It's considered one of the hardest-to-find of memorabilia from that cult 'horror-musical' of the day.) My arrangement is powerful and organlike, in places, capturing the "swimming pool orgy" (DON'T DREAM IT, BE IT) and then the wild staccato dance at the end, I'M A WILD AND AN UNTAMED THING. One member of the audience asked if the treble keys were moving faster than a human being could play them, and I told him that this was true! The instrument was playing melodies on other parts of the keyboard, at that point. It took 7 multi-tune rolls to transcribe this unusual film/stage show for the Pianola/LP medium, but the rolls, when played in public, seem to appeal to all, including those who wouldn't be caught dead in a movie theater, watching it at midnight on the weekends. (Another triumph for the Pianola!)

        There was a reprise of that DOODLE-BUG roll (featuring "Little Mary"practicing the piano), a 1919 salesman's roll for the Gulbransen Piano Co., arranged by the Cable Co. by William Hartman, who faked many rolls in the names of real artists, such as Roy Bargy and Charlie Straight, two hot Chicago pianists of the 'Teens and the 'Twenties.

        (You can see Bargy playing RHAPSODY IN BLUE on the MCA-Universal videotape of Paul Whiteman's early 1930 Technicolor film, "The King of Jazz"  a John Murray Anderson revue, complete with the Russell Markert Girls, soon to become the Radio City Rockettes! Don't let the scenery and the Art Deco costumes get in your way of listening to Bargy "play" Gershwin* ... and do fast forward over the saccharine "Wedding Sequence" with an attic trunk, 'Twenties nausea if ever there were a photographed example, complete with a treacle-like string-laden soundtrack, featuring glissando violins. This is "jazz"? Not for me! A BENCH IN THE PARK, RAGAMUFFIN ROMEO and HAPPY FEET, along with the Gershwin masterpiece, are the highlights of what was a flop movie in its day. We have the benefits of videotape now, so we can progress to the spots which sparkle, and let the remainder of "King of Jazz" rest in piece, as the 1930 audiences did in the Roxy Theatre days, when it was cancelled, after a short run.)
________
* GERSHWIN UPDATE: Bargy is shown at the piano, being a Gershwin "look-alike", in many ways. Whether he plays, which I believe he does, is a moot point. The soundtrack was, by and large, recorded separately, so the Whiteman Orchestra 'faked' their performances for the silent camera, in many scenes. Some sources suggest that composer Gershwin conducted the Whiteman Orchestra off-camera for RHAPSODY IN BLUE, but many of the facts don't dovetail, properly. The 'movie-length' version of the Gershwin music is full of verve, and whether Bargy really plays for the Universal Pictures soundtrack doesn't matter, to me. He was part of the Whiteman, Benson, Isham Jones and other orchestras of the day, but - of course - what you hear as "played by Bargy" on 'signed' Imperial Rolls by Cable is merely the mathematical arranging of William Hartman, who also did Charlie Straight 'duets' with Bargy. When one listens to these lackluster, tedious, mechanical-sounding rolls, you wonder HOW somebody can say with a straight face that it's really "played by Bargy" ... but they often do! I guess a lack of astute listening, combined with wishful thinking, is the chief problem, here.

[Back to the Pianola concert review:]

        So what was the encore? Nothing other that Liszt's MEPHISTO WALTZ, a roll which is played, half the time, on standard 88-Note pedal players, either the few with 80-key stacks for "reproducing" rolls or the many which can have modern plastic tape put over the top & bottom 4 notes on the tracker bar, cutting 88 down to 80. (This is a Metrostyle Duo-Art roll, by the way. See - http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/mephisto.htm ) There was so much applause after the 'tour de force' by Liszt had been performed, based on a Vox Cassette by Alfred Brendel at the keyboard, that I had exhausted all the performance possibilities of the Pianola. If anything were left to be discovered, previously, MEPHISTO WALTZ filled in the musical gaps, manyfold!

        With the brisk Autumn weather, beginning to chill the evenings, here on the shores of Penobscot Bay ... with the crowd elated to a level that I've rarely experienced, in recent times ... and with this being the final concert in the series of 9, there was a deep feeling of accomplishment when the final chords of the Liszt piano solo were struck at F.F.F., or whatever fury the Story & Clark upright could muster. Moreover, I had played all kinds of music, back-to-back, and it 'held' the listeners, solidly. Nobody left their seats, this evening. Later, some came to examine the player, which I opened, while others looked at the archive boxes of ARTCRAFT Rolls, with 20/carton, labels upward. Conversations about music ... pianos ... Player-Pianos ... and rolls continued, not for a few minutes, but for almost an hour. Eventually, the remaining audience members, who were peppering Lois Konvalinka and me with cultural questions, were told that it would be "lights out" in the hall, and so few hard core enthusiasts, male and female, continued conversing in the dark, outside, on the recreation hall deck, some helping reload the boxes of rolls into the waiting Volkswagen Camper.

        Reflecting upon the musical evening, which took place, only a few hours ago, I've reaffirmed my conviction that what's "wrong" with the Player-Piano industry is not the instrument, but the roll libraries and also the fact that the general public rarely gets to experience live "two hand" playing, up close, today ... be it by keyboard, or via the medium of virtuoso music rolls. I have "taken the piano" OUT OF THE HOUSE for decades, and won many people over to the treasures of the instrument, both as an interpretive device as well as something to play by hand, often after 'learning' the musical structure and rhythm from the Pianola rolls, first.

        The concert series, and the last 2 performances (#8 and #9), especially, was an artistic success and a splendid entertainment, on many levels. Perhaps these articles will spur some of the readers, who possess a player, to "get out there" and "demonstrate it". A 'reproducing' piano also needs human monitoring, if only for tempo, but usually for manual sustaining pedal, when the old rolls are being played, so there's always a need of a musically-involved human being, be it an Ampico B grand with few hand controls, or a Duo-Art or a Welte-Licensee action - featuring Pianola levers - with the full performance spectrum of the pedal player models.

        Fall means a return to roll perforating, and so I'll be doing just that, facing the sea, at Searsport Shores ... alternating with processing/shipping/arranging work in the Wiscasset Studio, 100 miles South. (On October 15th, the campground closes, so all is accomplished in our residence, after that time!)

        All told, this series of 9 concerts was rewarding to present ... and it represents, in my opinion, another "milestone" in the history of the pneumatic player instrument. Strenuous and exhausting at times, these musicales were, but there's nothing like an enthusiastic audience to elevate the performance standards.

        Lois (Konvalinka) and I had a wonderful experience, in presenting these multi-faceted programs of Pianola music.

        Thanks for reading all these performance reviews, each written as a separate 'story' ... since the music and the audiences differed, each time, while the concert-going public 'grew', as the Summer weeks progressed. We also wish to thank Searsport Shores for sponsoring this musical event, unusual for a campground, but ... when heard, "the music does the talking" in every case (if it's good).

        Regards from Searsport,
                (signed) Douglas Henderson

ARTCAFT Music Rolls, Wiscasset, ME 04578 USA
http:/www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/
Scenes of the 'Reprotone' at Searsport Shores:
http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/concerts.htm
 

PIANOLA Concert #8 - Searsport Shores (8-18-2001)

[Return to the PIANOLA Concert Menu]

Hello MMD readers,

        Last night's concert, the 8th in our series of 9 Saturday evening musicales, was an overwhelming success ... and possibly the "best", when audience size and their collective interaction were concerned. The Maine Coast is changing, with mild dry breezes replacing the Summer humidity, for clearly "Fall is in the air", now. Similarly, the monster-sized mobile home RVs (which tend to insulate the transient travelers), have been replaced by families with pop-up trailers, while all types of tent camping permeates the wooded areas - as well as the bluffs which open to the sea. The coming of a new season often invigorates one, and so, we began our performance on August 18th with bright spirits, and a box full of new material to present.

        Only one thing was evident, when the clock struck 7:30 p.m., our starting time: empty seats. Lois and I had discovered that a "familiar" piece with plenty of panache - especially with open windows and doors, at the recreation hall - usually brings in the audience ... and the first snappy Interpretive Arrangement did just that. During a light supper in our trailer dinette, we decided on a reprise of THE THIRD MAN THEME Variations (Duo-Art) for the "come one, come all" number -- and it worked the expected miracle. By the time my arrangement was being rerolled, all the seats were filled. Actually, throughout the evening's performance, people wandered in from the office - stood for a few music roll interpretations - and then were 'replaced' by more campers. The result was a "core audience"
with the extra people coming and going, but keeping a total that one would call a "full house" - if such can be said for a multi-purpose recreation hall!

        The theme for this concert was to present music that not only took the player instrument to its complete dynamic range, but arrangements which exploited the subtle staccato and legato effects in the "pianissimo" realm. Also, I had decided to present "unpublished" music, that is, selections which are only available on ARTCRAFT Music Rolls - compositions which have yet to be recorded on audio or published as sheet music.

        Early in the program, was Wally Rose's piano novelty of 1989, VIGNETTE - the last composition before he passed away, and also dedicated to me. When the famous Ragtime pianist - associated with Lu Watters' band - finally decided to collaborate with me, it was by letter, simple notation manuscript and also via telephone (often with my proofing the rubato during these Master Roll in-progress performances). [Wally, for those who don't know his name, began the revival of classical Ragtime, especially the works of Scott Joplin, in 1939 ... being the pianist with the Yerba Buena Jazz Band until 1956 - so he was a pioneer in artistic syncopation. He was also one of the warmest and kindest people I've had the pleasure of knowing, in the music sphere, and was a true friend of mine for almost 50 years' time.]

        VIGNETTE is unusual, for a novelette, in that it combines the "sweet" elements of pieces like POLLY, NOLA or SPARKLETS with the "bombastic" piano solos, such as KITTEN ON THE KEYS, DIZZY FINGERS and some of the Roy Bargy compositions of the 'Twenties. Generally, in the old days, a piano solo of this kind was EITHER "light and airy" OR "powerful and showy" - as in the Zez Confrey style of composition. Here, Wally composed the A and B themes to be a frothy piano solo, suggesting that the Trio be "the Pianola part" - which would be my way of turning the player loose for loud accents and flashy arpeggios, laden with impossible-to-play staccato ornamentation. VIGNETTE ends as it began, as a gentle and happy piano solo, featuring a final fade-out that drops the phrased staccato down to a whisper-like level, with the hint of a flourish in the final few notes.

        Needless to say, VIGNETTE is a number which doesn't come across very well on a so-so player instrument. The piano action has to be well-regulated, the player action must be able to handle repeating staccato effects in the pianissimo register and the connection between the 2 actions has to have as little "lost motion" as can be possible. Those who have this roll - or who have heard it - know that these elements must be in place before a memorable performance of the Wally Rose number can ever be given. (Our 'Reprotone' upright certainly handled this perforated material, for we received some compliments about the piece, hours
later ... and ... it was requested to be repeated on our final 2001 concert, next Saturday.)

        Another 'gem' from the 'not-yet-published' musical world was Joseph Lamb's bouncy DYNAMITE RAG, one of my best-selling 88-Note roll arrangements. Originally, this was written, in part, as JOE LAMB'S OLD RAG ... but when the genre faded in the 'Twenties, the unfinished composition went from one corporate portfolio to another and was forgotten, eventually. Lamb, whose music was associated with James Scott and Scott Joplin, was rediscovered about the time of the Blesh & Janis book, "They All Played Ragtime" in the early 'Fifties ... and so he was enticed to finish up some 'old' pieces and also encouraged to write some entirely new compositions. This is when DYNAMITE RAG was completed, but as only 4 separate themes, prior to his passing. A pianist approached Lamb's widow, Amelia, and borrowed the scores - and shortly thereafter a Missouri roll-arranging hobbyist copied them note-for-note, as written. Today, nobody knows where the music is, really, but I borrowed one of these stoic 'sheet music transfer' rolls, from the 'Sixties, and "read" the score on our Leabarajan #8-B perforator - with the stylus feature. (See the bottom illustration on http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/studio.htm for a view of the rare #8-B machine.) From there, I composed an Introduction, a bridge and a Coda, tying the 4 melodies together - also coming up with some Pianola variations to keep things lively and effervescent. DYNAMITE RAG, as it has always done, received hearty applause, especially since the unusual 'timed' pause-chords in the composition make it unique, in the genre of syncopated music.

        One member of the audience asked about the old (commercial) rolls, since I had made references to homogeneous perforations and repeating material, so I whipped out a totally boring QRS Roll and followed it with the ARTCRAFT Interpretive Arrangement of the same music. The lackluster factory roll was only played in part, since when it began repeating 100%, my trusty rewind lever was activated. I also gave my imitation of a lady, now deceased, who had a distinctive voice, and who - with her husband - had me over as a neighbor during my teenage years in California. Decades later, at a '90 player club convention in Ohio, she said, "We never got to hear a complete roll when Douglas used to visit us. He'd rewind it about 1/4 of the way through and say 'It just repeats after that'
or 'It has nothing more to say, musically.'" (My falsetto approximation of her speaking voice also went over with the group, proving that humour had its place with this particular audience.) After the concert, several people commented on the drab nature of the QRS Roll versus the sparkling ARTCRAFT arrangement - which exploited the abilities of the Player-Piano action - and, so this "Brand X" demonstration, suggested by a listener, definitely made an impression on a number of people.

        Having established, through audience chuckles, that here was a "with it" group, I performed Ian Whitcomb's CHESTER THE CAT, after walking around to show - via an unfurled roll - the stamped-on pictures of the real cat and dog (Inspector), upon which his One-Step was based. I also gave the laughter-prone audience a short taste of SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW, that ghastly QRS Roll mentioned in a previous review - for Pianola concert #6 (8-4-2001). In retrospect, I wish I had a photograph of last night's audience experiencing just a part of this "Wizard of Oz" musical travesty; they looked as if all had swallowed a pickle, a quince and a spoonful of alum - or perhaps castor oil. (What a priceless photo opportunity was missed, during that performance of QRS 'trashing' of the delightful Judy Garland song!)

        Just to show that good - or at least, unusual - rolls from the past are still to be found, I brought out a recent eBay purchase, my 1927 silent movie Picturoll©, designed for accompaniment purposes. This was called BURLESQUES, and until I discovered it via the Internet auction service, I never knew that these Foto-Player© rolls were arranged that "late" in history. [This rare roll was mentioned in my review of Pianola concert #6 (8-4-2001), but not played, due to the time factor.] My large collection of Picturolls - by the FilmMusic Co. in Los Angeles - run from the middle 'Teens to about '23, just before the Phonofilm talking shorts began to appear on many screens ... and when the player-piano was giving way to small cinéma organs in neighborhood theatres. When BURLESQUES was released in '27, Al Jolson was already a success with "The Jazz Singer" and the Vitaphone sound discs. The feature length Vitaphone accompaniment film, "Don Juan", with John Barrymore, was a year older, as were the Robert Benchley shorts for the Fox Movietone system. (Silent features
would continue through '28 and '29, however, when the era of live film accompaniment came to a halt.) Moreover, with Germany's Tri-Ergon and RCA (along with other) movie accompaniment gramophone discs - using multiple turntables for cuing - amplified sound pushed the Foto-Player aside even more, in those final three years, making one wonder how many Picturolls were going to be released, especially with Robert Morton - the theatre organ builder - taking over the assets of that Berkeley, Calif. enterprise. (Wurlitzer, Seeburg, Cremona and other companies built similar instruments, called "photo-players", Foto-Player being a trade name for that one paticular brand.)

        (Note: Foto-Players had spoolboxes for 2 rolls, and were esentially a standard player upright, often with side chests for organ pipes and sound effects. However, a regular Pianola was used in some small theatres, with a musician playing the keyboard at times while cuing in a Picturoll for some of the more complex scenes. Variety was the norm in thisbygone era of film accompaniment!)

        BURLESQUES didn't have that usual "Play To Action" stamp on the leader, nor did the box label indicate what "type" of motion picure scene matched the roll's use, which was always the case in earlier years. It did feature "Hand-Played" in large type (... sure ...with clusters of "connected" notes, clearly visible in chain-link pairs, doubles of pairs,and so on!). I told the audience to ignore the pedestrian "striking" and concentrate on the musical arrangement, which they did. BURLESQUES tossed in everything: "Home Sweet Home", "Flower Song" by Lange, dramatic agitato, "Funeral March" by Chopin, "Tannhaeuser March" by
Wagner, schottishe melodies, dance music and just about anything else in the 'Jacobsen Folio for the Photo-Play Pianist' of the day. This, too, was unusual, since the typical Picturoll from the pre-sound days REPEATED the music so that the operator could stop/start l of the 2 rolls and return to the earlier texture, as the projected scenes changed. Was BURLESQUES made for a motion picture, or what? In 2001, who knows? The wild arrangement pleased all the listeners, since you never knew what musical snippet would come along next.

        Several 'regulars', who have attended our other recitals, made some vocal requests, so Gershwin's THREE PRELUDES (Duo-Art) and LION TAMER RAG were repeated, on this 8th concert. The dry atmosphere and the response from the Story & Clark action - varying with the barometric changes, each week - made the "Second Prélude" particularly memorable. The treble "blues" melody sang above the muted texture of the repeating chord patterns. I've played this 'reproducing' roll many times on the 'Reprotone' upright, but this performance had something extra, thanks, primarily, to Mother Nature's atmospheric level, I'm certain. The pulsating accents on the "Third Prélude" were equally stellar, this being a better-than-average rendition of the acclaimed roll, based on Oscar Levant's
Columbia 78 rpm records (via tape Cassette).

        By then, it was apparent that there were some musicians in the audience, one of whom was a Dean of Fine Arts at a Massachusetts college. (Later, I was told more about the person with credentials, but memory escapes me, at this moment.) There was some talk about the possibility of a 'Reprotone' performance for 3 different higher education classes:music, mathematics and physics.

        (Incidentally, one of the earlier promotions for the Leabarjan perforators was for the public schools, as a "math teaching" machine. I chronicled these promotions in a player club magazine article, during the 'Eighties - written as a single illustrated text, but broken into two parts by the Editor, who also managed to mix up the captions for the photographic illustrations. The treatise also reprinted some rare material about the Leabarjan for composers and for theatre managers, this being vaudeville - where the player was heavily involved, as a 'pit instrument', at one time.)

        The rest of Pianola concert #8 featured ARTCRAFT Rolls performed on prior programs, and receiving just a touch of extra applause, it seemed to me. Having a "full house" and also several really interested people - who expressed themselves in between the numbers - seemed to drag the rest upward, and into the performances, be they young or old.

        [If you've read the review of Pianola concert #7 (August 11, 2001) - for last week - you can see that the absence of aesthetically-oriented individuals can affect the group as a whole. On the other hand, if you revisit our text on Pianola concert #4 (7-21-2001), you'll discover that young people - who played piano duets on the other instrument in the recreation hall - kept the collective 'focus' on the player roll concert, for the entire audience. The trick is to have some people who are tuned into music, seated among the curious, in attendance; these individuals will, through their own enthusiasm and/or questions, involve the others, regardless of their age group. How fortunate we were, for Pianola concert #8 to have the ideal 'balance', in this regard!]

        Later, just before the Office-Hall closed around 10 p.m., at Searsport Shores, there was some discussion about my proposed series of 4 concerts - for 2002 - spaced apart, by a few weeks' time ... and promoted with ARTCRAFT brochures printed/distributed between the Belfast-Camden and the Ellworth areas, along Route 1. The owner-family of this beautiful campground was all for the idea, which would allow for fuller coverage ... and the open question of how many non-campers would wish to attend the future recitals. (If a few from the outside came to investigate our Saturday evening musicales, that would be fine. If many
took the opportunity, then perhaps this could develop into a 'ticket sales' event, all depending upon many factors, of course.) At this point, it seems likely that 4 concerts might be given next year, giving me more "freedom" on the weekends - for other pursuits - and also allowing for greater promotion between each special event. As they say in broadcasting, "stay tuned".

        We look forward to the final concert on August 25th, which is #9 in the series - next weekend. I hope to conclude this artistic presentation of Pianola music with the most sweeping of perforated arrangements. Exactly what will be played hasn't been determined, but LINNMANIA-MARSEILLAISE, MEPHISTO WALTZ (Duo-Art) or Nacio Herb Brown's AMERICAN BOLERO ('35) - the latter, which was perforated on the campground premises - are certain to be part
of the concluding concert program.

        Best wishes from the rocky Coast of Maine,
                (signed) Douglas Henderson

ARTCRAFT Music Rolls
http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/
Snapshots of the 1929 piano and me, taken at Searsport Shores:
http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/concerts.htm
 
 


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ARTCRAFT Newsletters and ARTCRAFT Music Rolls are published by L. Douglas Henderson
ARTCRAFT Music Rolls, PO Box 295, Wiscasset, ME 04578 USA
Telephone: (207) 882-7420
E-Mail - artcraft@wiscasset.net