From the Studio: Solfege

Welcome back to my piano art studio! Today I’d like to share with you some interesting things I made from pieces of the 1866 Steinway upright piano.

Fascinating Construction

As I do with every piano, once I got it home, I began to take it apart and study the construction of the individual pieces. All uprights have certain things in common. For instance, they all have hammers, jacks, wippens, backchecks, and so forth. However, they are not all made the same. Sometimes the difference is a matter of practicality, as smaller pianos must have smaller parts that are arranged a bit differently from those found within the upright grands. But sometimes the difference, I believe, is in the style of the manufacturer.

The 1866 Steinway had a wippen assembly that functioned exactly like any other wippen assembly I’ve ever seen—with its jack, flanges, bridle wire, backcheck wire and felt, and the damper spoon. However, the way these parts went together was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and at that point I had taken apart twelve other pianos. The major difference was with the jack, a smallish piece that looks somewhat like a hammer (in most upright pianos, that is). The jacks inside the 1866 Steinway were made of two individual pieces of wood instead of the solid construction I normally see. Also, the part that is normally quite short was in this case almost as long as the longer side, and it was hollow. In most uprights, the backcheck and bridle wires rise behind the jack; but in the case of the 1886 Steinway, the backcheck and bridle wires came up through the hollowed jack. This was a construction I had never seen before, and it fascinated me. For that reason, I wanted to use some of the wippen assemblies in their entirety, to display the unique manner of their construction.

With this in mind, I arranged three complete wippen assemblies in a pinwheel formation in the center of a 12×12 canvas, which I had painted a neutral tone. Then I framed it with “loose action pieces,” namely: jacks, letoff buttons, and backchecks also from the old Steinway. To finish the framing, I used treble hammers from two different grand pianos: one old, like the Steinway, and one newer, to provide a color contrast. I did not use the Steinway hammers because they were reserved for a different project.

A Star Is Born

Getting back to these most unusual jacks, I discovered that their proportions made them perfect for forming a star. I’ve never been able to do this with any other jack because they are too disproportionate for such a design. So I created a second design with the star in the center, using jacks that still had their bit of red felt on them, because the bright red made the star pop with color. The border is composed of a variety of flanges from different pianos of differing ages, with differing patinas. The corners of the canvas are marked with letoff buttons, and just inside each corner is a fan of hammers from both upright and grand pianos.

Now for a Name

As I’ve stated many times before, coming up with a name for my designs is the hardest thing I do. These two creations were no exception. I decided on “Solfege” because the solfege syllables are the building blocks of music, just as these wippen assemblies, together with other action pieces, are the building blocks of piano music.

How can I make it mine?

The “Solfege Triplet” is already sold, but the “Solfege Star” is still available in my shop.

♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬

Thank you for joining me on this tour of the studio. I look forward to seeing you on the next one. Until then, I invite you to check out photos of my other work in the gallery. Enjoy the rest of your day!

Published by Angela Umphers Rueger

Hello. I am a joyful wife and mother of three, just turned loose the last of my little chicks, and getting ready to spread my own writing wings. Twenty-six years ago I earned a B.A. in English because my heart's desire was to write. Since that time I've worked as a teacher, musician, cleaning lady, tax professional, and artist, but never as a writer. In the past year, several friends have encouraged me to pick up the baton and run with it. By creating this blog, I took the first baby step toward becoming a published author. The journey will likely be longer than I can imagine, but it has finally begun, and that's all that matters.

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