PIANOLA Concert #7
Greetings, Player-Piano enthusiasts,
This is our FIRST attempt at using the Eudora method of sending out the Newsletter, which - for Microsoft's Listbot - ended on August 6th. (We squeezed in one extra 'edition' on August 5th, which you should have received.)
One reason, for "testing" our mailing list, is due to the fact that Microsoft's server NEVER GAVE US any address changes; these were 'linked' from their location, which means we might be 'dropping' some names, making this Newsletter being undeliverable, now. Also - some recipients might get 2 copies, due to the fact that nothing in the Listbot roster was in alphabetical order, and our list of subscribers is "too large" to check out everything, at least with the current workload.
If, by some accident, you receive 2 of these mailings, could you let us know about it? I can add/delete any E-Mail address, right on my laptops. (There are no verifiers, logins and the rest of the 'fal-de-rol' inherent in the Microsoft service ... which only lasted for a little over a year's time!)
We are preparing for Pianola concert #8, Saturday, the 18th ... the second from the end of our Player-Piano performance series - for 2001. With the response we've been getting, I'm certain that there will be another set of concerts in 2002, only with more promotion (via special printed brochures distributed along on the Maine coast ... additional radio station 'arts calendar' listings ... and URL postings) ... and perhaps 4 musicales instead of this "marathon" of 9 Saturday night recitals.
I've found that 9 - on a weekly basis - cuts into my mail-order activities to the point of stalling things ... and ... there just isn't the flexibility to get all the various tasks done around Boothbay (where the storage building is located) and Wiscasset (our home base), being 100 miles South of Searsport Shores. If you are waiting for a backorder, please lt me apologize!
For those who read about the passing of our dachshund, Liesl, after 15 years - in an earlier Newsletter of 2001 ... we are driving to Massachusetts, next week, to pick up our new puppy, a Boston Terrier (about 8 weeks old, at this point). This will be our 3rd Boston ... and if I find a suitable dachshund, that will be our 3rd for that breed as well. (We aren't rushing into things, since a dog - for us - is a 'family member', never left alone and with us, wherever we go.) Things were so quiet, after we lost Liesl, since she was so much a part of our daily activities.
In response to the interest about our concert series, Lois managed her 'first' Mavica snapshots, taking some .jpgs for a Website, showing both me and the 1929 Reprotone in the campround's recreation hall. Check out this page - http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/concerts.htm Searsport Shores launched a biography about me, which will be on the Web through August: http://www.campocean.com/doug.html Beyond that, the 3-station 'classical' network, Radio WBACH - which reaches from Kennekunk to Portland, Bar Harbor and Bangor, Maine - listed us on their "Performing Arts" Website, and at this writing, their texts for the 18th and 25th remain on the Web. Clearly, there IS an interest in live piano music - even via 'virtuoso' rolls, such as we play, on the 'Reprotone' upright - and whatever we decide to try in 2002, ought to "build" on the success of the 9-performance series in Searsport.
If you receive THE MISSISSIPPI RAG, a monthly paper from Minnesota devoted to Ragtime and traditional jazz music, my article - written, upon request, for the Arcady 'Ragtime Revue' - will be appearing in their September '01 issue (and I'm even being 'paid' for my writing efforts). Arcady featured 4 of the finest keyboard pianists, this year, and the concert tour was beyond anything they've given in the past (even when my 'Reprotone' was part of the show!). This text was rejected by Editor Rhodes of the Mechanical Music Digest, but the Midwest music magazine was more than happy to publish it, I discovered. Similarly, my article (below) for Pianola concert #7 never appeared in the MMD either, even though I'm continuing to submit the texts until the 9th concert has been completed, on the 25th.
Concert #7 was fairly difficult, for me, since it's not easy 'holding' the attention of a young audience, especially when the announcement sign was not easily readable ... and there was no mention of a "piano", either. (All this will become clear when you read the 'rejected' review, which follows.) Still, flashbulbs and video tapes were running - during the first 1/2 of my performance - so there was a level of interest, albeit quite different from the first six audiences, which were a 'mix' of all ages. While ARTCRAFT Rolls held the peoples' attention for about 2/3 of the evening, I wonder how many chairs would have been empty if I'd performed only J. L. Cook/QRS Rolls, mushy Delcamp and Milne medleys or the monotonous droning of "jass saxophone" fox trots under the Pianostyle label?
You'll read that, once again, Robin Pratt's reissue rolls DID transfix the audience - in the same manner as my own Interpretive Arrangements always do.
I'm still convinced that "bad" rolls (i.e. boring and/or repetitive) are what hastened the demise of the player instruments. Our modern arrangements - plus some ideal recuts by Mr. Pratt - definitely command attention in a manner which the old formula fare never did.
One we've completed the last 2 Pianola concerts, then the successive Newsletters will return to texts about rolls, player history and musical analysis - as before. Since we are controlling the Newsletters entirely from our own equipment, more .jpgs (images) will probably be included with the mailings, in the near future.
If you were a member of Listbot, you can't "log in" to their Website for ARTCRAFT Rolls, in spite of Microsoft's advance notices, to the contrary. I have copied all the Microsoft URLs - beyond having my original HTML .doc texts - so if there are any backissues you want (from Issue #1 through #8, plus the Bulletins and illustrated URLS), just drop me a line. They can be sent immediately, and ... when August is over, I'll have the time to launch them - in improved HTML - on my OWN Website for <archives.htm>. The first Newsletter (from May 21, 2000) is there already, at http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/archives.htm - in case you want to see the 'new look' of our non-Microsoft mailings. (Ignore the Listbot links on that page, since they are inoperative, now.) The entire list of Microsoft-Listbot mailings can be found at the end of this Newsletter; use this information if you want "any or all" of the Issues sent to you, directly from ARTCRAFT Music Rolls.
Guess that brings you up to date.
Newsletter #10 ... which will follow the final 2001 performance at Searsport Shores ... will feature Pianola concerts #8 and #9, together. Also, we expect to add some .jpgs of the piano's interior, close-up for those interested in unusual player actions. (If you've seen the small '29 Story & Clark 'Reprotone' upright on the new illustrated Web page, mentioned above, or the loading operation on http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/fotopg1.htm - you might wish to view "more" of this distinctive mechanism, in our next Newsletter.)
Best regards from Maine - and I hope this 'first' edition via Eudora's group mailing setup "works", satisfactorily!
[Pianola concert #7 - Sent to the Mechanical Music Digest on August 12, 2001:]
PIANOLA Concert #7 - Searsport Shores (8-11-2001)
Hello MMD readers,
The 7th (of 9) Player-Piano concerts, here in Searsport Shores, Maine, was musically successful but a series of factors made it a mixed blessing, with respect to the audience. For one thing, most of the seated listeners were young people - in most cases not familiar with an evening of instrumental piano music - and some had children, which - admittedly - had a short attention span. When the music began, precisely at 7:30 p.m., following the 'sold out' Lobster Bake, down on the rocky shores ... it became obvious that something was "different" for this particular Pianola recital, and so ... before describing the music which was performed, it seems natural to outline the situation.
Searsport Shores was just about filled, for this particular Saturday night, a grueling experience for the managing family, since the earlier weeks of Summer had been particularly slow - evidently a nationwide problem, due - perhaps - to the economy or the national mood. Yesterday, the RVs and trailers were lined up, waiting to find the last available spaces, and so the task of maintaining the 'Coming Events' sign was turned over to a well-meaning teenage employee. First, the listing for the 7th Player-Piano concert - posted the day before - was removed for an announcement of an activity planned for the following day. So ... with a phalanx of campers arriving late in the afternoon, causing congestion in many cases, there was that nearly-unreadable sign on the Office-Hall door which advertised something for Sunday - and not for that particular evening. Later, when I complained about the omission, the sign was redone with the words, "Concert at 7:30 p.m." - with no mention of a piano (or rolls) at all.
In retrospect, this might have been a signal for the younger campers to believe that a "rock concert" - with guitars and off-key wailing - might be the evening's fare. The word "concert", alone, today, can have negative connotations, if there is no qualifying language to separate artistic music from overhyped media junk (and amateurs who attempt to imitate the latter).
Thus, the hall was sparsely occupied, when the performance was to begin. Shifting gears to get something attention-getting and 'punchy' floating through the windows, I opened with PIANOLA RAG, that bouncy arrangement performed on an earlier concert in this series. As expected, the Bill Krenz composition - arranged for Pianola - brought the people in ... but ... they were all young, and probably not used to focusing on the subtleties of complex piano music. Nevertheless, our 7th concert opened with hearty applause, and most of the seats were filled ... so the program returned to the one laid out, in advance.
There's always a 'theme' to the presentations in this 9-part series, viz. to show another side of the pneumatic player, to emphasize the variety in ARTCRAFT Interpretive Arranging or to contrast several perforated music rolls - all of which help destroy that stereotype of the droning, mechanical-sounding, monotonous Pianola - in its typically experienced form.
Scott Joplin's THE CHRYSANTHEMUM was the beginning of the "contrast" experience, now being heard by young adults and teenagers in all the available seats. I interpreted my 1986 arrangement, blending the original piano solo with some Pianola variations, and the resounding applause made me believe that this would be another exceptional evening at our idyllic campground.
Next, came THE CHRYSANTHEMUM - the Mark Lutton transcription for 2 pianos and 8 hands - perforated in the ARTCRAFT Studio, quite recently. I told the audience to note the differences in keyboard striking, the countermelodies and the graduated staccato - in this Player-Piano adaptation of the same composition. Again, the audience was "in my hand" and the applause grew greater, after the second Joplin Ragtime roll was rewinding.
The program continued with some additional titles, new to the Searsport Shores series, beginning with the delicate SLEEPY HOLLOW RAG. As the 1929 'Reprotone' player is checked out at 7:30 a.m. - every Saturday, the day of the performance - I have the opportunity to use graphite, check for lost motion and also determine the 'delay in response' for virtuoso accents ... for the instrument varies each week, due to the humidity on Penosbcot Bay. (This is another reason why the music roll industry made so many pedestrian rolls, which "didn't work the boat", since if the arrangement doesn't strain the piano action - with crisp staccato, especially - who's the wiser for the daily differences in a pneumatic instrument of this kind?) Since ARTCRAFT arrangements 'push' both the piano and the player action, all the weekly variables need to be known, if the Story & Clark is to rival a fine keyboard pianist - and then some!
The piano has been better with each successive week. My only conclusion, here, is that the various woods have "settled in" to the atmosphere, from the spruce and popular to the mahogany and the other screwed-together components. Every Saturday, the 'Reprotone' has become a few increments more responsive, and the performances also possess a musical clarity that didn't exist during the first couple of concerts in this 9-part series. SLEEPY HOLLOW RAG is not a title I would have attempted on the first recital, here by the sea. The recent test performance - in early morning - revealed sensitive, floating tremelo effects, in the pianissimo to mezzo-piano range ... plus the isolated solo accents which contrast with the surrounding ornaments. This is particulary true for the "sostenuto" sections of the composition, where the middle foot pedal is used while the treble trips about with the crispest staccato imaginable. Of course, on the player instrument, the sustained chords and the soft staccato breaks which tear into them are all "worked out" in the Interpretive Arranging process, since the piano keys can "hold" yet release for a 32nd note "strike" ... only to be "held" again, as if the sostenuto pedal were in effect.
(Another triumph for the Pianola! -- Most uprights don't have this feature built-in, for the keyboard pianist, and many grands - especially those by Steinway - have the sostenuto pedal failing, as their actions age. The player roll adds the musical effect while not requiring that device, which keeps certain dampers lifted, as needed by the keyboard musician.)
The realm of 'Art Deco' popular music was explored through a performance of THE FUTURISTIC RAG by Rube Bloom, a '29 piano novelty. Again, the 'Reprotone' brought out the dotted 8ths from the 16ths, and yielded "single note control" in the 9ths and other 'moderne' chords which permeate this unusual work. To update the place this piece had in musical history, I mentioned that Rube Bloom was often the accompanist for Ruth Etting, and moved rapidly to the 'Fifties musical drama with Doris Day, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME. It was then that blank faces stared back at me. The group, collectively, had enjoyed the music, so far, but topics like Doris Day were obviously "before their time" - and so, gave no reference point to the musical chronology.
Since THE CHRYSANTHEMUM (in both versions) went over so well, I re-introduced THE CARIOCA to the program ... not bothering to explain it, since if Doris Day were an unknown topic, then Vincent Youmans, RKO Radio Pictures or the debut of Astaire & Rogers - as a dancing team - would be too medieval to discuss, on my part. THE CARIOCA - in spite of its length and myriad variations - brought the biggest applause of all. Clearly, to the person, all in attendance relished the vibrant music, even though most had probably never heard of "Flying Down To Rio" - or possible even knew where Rio di Janeiro was, at all (if I might be facetious, for a moment). At one point, several clapped when the "jungle rhythms" began (not knowing that the roll was only 1/2 completed) - signalling my homage to singer Etta Moten, followed by the the black tap dance troupe. Here was another clue that this was entirely unfamiliar music, since the strings had not stopped vibrating when the 'carioca' beat switched to those 'jazz rhythm' effects.
Stirred by the success of THE CARIOCA, I then introduced another Howard Lutter segment to the program, SAW MILL RIVER ROAD - another reissue by Robin Pratt, in his important 'brown box' Welte-Licensee series of Artists' Choice Rolls. (By this time, I didn't bother to mention anything about 'reproducing' pianos, the Welte or the like ... just stressing that this was the ONLY arranger from the past whose work turned me on, from the early 'Fifties, and that I learned a lot from the rolls of Howard Lutter.) It turned out that Lois Konvalinka - always in attendance - recognized SAW MILL RIVER ROAD, from the very first measures, but never knew the title, before this debut performance. I told the audience that this was an extremely popular tune for a short period of time, in the 'Twenties, featured on radio, player rolls and many brands of 78 rpm records. (Am not certain if half of the group knew what a "78" was, however.)
Following Robin Pratt's quality re-release, I continued with the lighter, more melodic offerings from the ARTCRAFT library of Interpretive Arrangements, and was thankful that my past performance of BLUE MONDAY wasn't taking on place this particular evening. In fact, all the other Gershwin arrangements, brought to the recreation hall, were skipped, since the rhythms and quirky melodic lines were probably a bit much for those weaned on amplified guitars and the pained vocal wailing, which is palmed-off on so many, today, as "popular music". (If the corporate hype disappeared, much it would die off, justifiably, I'm certain.)
The last two numbers were the ELLINGTON MEDLEY followed by LION TAMER RAG, which concluded Pianola concert #7, about 5 minutes early. By the time that the half-point in my recital had been reached, the enthusiastic young audience had really "heard enough" so quietly began filtering out. Clearly, the young people had enjoyed what they heard, but "up to a point", only. That left a few senior citizens who continued to relish the musical evening. Two groups of young people stayed on, to ask a few questions about the player and its operation, and I'm certain that the applause was genuine, though the level of listening to "piano music" had its limits, for many.
That so many adults didn't show up - on this evening, when Searsport Shores was packed - I attribute to the sign, as well as the ommision of "Player-Piano Concert" - something which would have certainly attracted those beyond the fuzzy listening levels of the youthful audience, who came to a "concert" (sans "piano" in the title).
On a positive note, I might add - at this point - that my performances were being photographed, at least for the period when the audience was at its maximum. One video camera and several digital flash cameras popped away, as the ARTCRAFT Rolls were being interpreted. Clearly, some members in the listening group wanted a 'photographic' record of the Pianola recital.
I enjoy playing for many, or an appreciative few, which was the case by the time my performance ended a bit earlier-than-normal. This is the way to approach all aesthetic things. Enjoy what you do, and if others come along for the ride, so much the better. Beyond that, I was delighted that the 'Reprotone' was probably performing better than before, including at the Connecticut Festivals of the past ... and the many Arcady 'Ragtime Revue' performances, where I was invited to appear with the instrument. There's nothing like a responsive pneumatic player, especially when the striking 'delay' is down to the bare minumum. Thus, whether the hall was filled or prematurely empty, I had a wonderful time.
I'm happy to say that printed words - which are legible - appeared on the Office-Hall board, as of today. Now, they can be read by the RV drivers, as they enter. Perhaps, if the grounds are still filled to capacity for Pianola concert #8, we'll have the pleasure of a mixed audience, again, blending the young and the old.
Best wishes from our beautiful site at Searsport Shores, where we are so lucky to combine natural beauty with the pleasures of camping ... and where the family-operated business creates, in some mysterious fashion, a 'community' which does not exist at any other RV-tent park we've ever experienced.
(signed) Douglas - and planning for concert #8, to be presented, here, on August 18th
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