I Cried to the Lord

I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. I cried unto You, O Lord: I said, “You are my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.”

Psalm 142:1,5

Photo taken at my home in Milton, Florida, 2018

Verses on my blog are taken from the KJV, but some archaic words have been modernized.

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!

Steinway Pianos, Part 2

My Steinway

The serial number in my Steinway upright piano (13175) dates it to 1866. In fact, the metal case found in this piano was patented on June 5th of that very year (according to the engraving on the plate). The patent reads:

Patent 55,385, William Steinway, dated June 5, 1866, Improvement in Piano-Fortes. This patent claims as new “The use in piano-fortes of a metal case cast in one solid piece, consisting of the plate a, braces b, rafters or brace-frame c, and a connecting piece or flange running round on three sides of the case and supporting the regulating apparatus, leaving one side open for the insertion of the sounding-board with its bars and bridges.”

Does this mean that the Steinway piano which has come to me was one of the first upright pianos with a cast iron frame? Wow! It’s certainly one of the heaviest of the 20+ pianos my sons and I have moved!

Another thing I recently learned is that Steinway began building pianos with 88 keys in 1868. I was curious, so I went back to my workshop immediately and counted—sure enough, my piano had only 85 keys, which was common in the 19th Century.

Steinway published their first illustrated catalog in 1865, just one year before my piano was built.

What I Did with It

When I had accumulated twelve pianos, I decided twelve was enough. I had more empty cases than I had room for, and enough action pieces to keep me going for years to come. But then someone approached me, saying, “I have an old Steinway. Someone started a restoration on it, but never finished, and now it’s too far gone. Would you be interested?” Would I be interested? Who can so no to a Steinway? A few days later my son and I showed up with a trailer, and we gladly took that rugged old piano off his hands. Incidentally, this man is now my choir director, and I enjoy keeping him apprized of what’s going on with his contribution.

When he said it was too far gone for restoration, he wasn’t kidding. The finish was very badly damaged and dried out; the veneer was peeling in several places; the action pieces were filthy dirty, and several were dry-rotted and broken; and the name had been removed from the fallboard when someone was preparing it to be stripped and refinished. Immediately I went online to see if I could find a replacement for the fallboard label. Indeed I found it. . .and paid $50 for it. Not long after that, I had cause to praise God for leading me to look for the label on that exact day; for the very next day Steinway revoked all rights to distributors to sell the labels. They didn’t want to the run the risk of people buying the labels and placing them on pianos not built by Steinway. I get that.

The label I purchased is still carefully preserved in the packaging, as I’ve still not gotten around to refinishing the fallboard. But when I do, it will become a wall-mounted shelf, and will be available for sale.

The keys were in pretty good shape. The wooden parts were original to the piano, but the ivory had all been replaced at some point. I have long since removed the action and keys and used them to make gifts for many of my customers. A few finished art pieces remain available for sale, and I still have some raw piano pieces waiting to be turned into their own forms of art.

Also, I’ve reserved the case, with the intention of turning it into a desk. Because of the engraving and the beautiful craftsmanship of the iron plate, I’ve left it inside the piano. The strings remain intact as well. The case is rather heavy, even without the moveable working parts, but it will receive a new set of casters, which will enable it to roll easily without marking the floor. In fact, I’ve borrowed a piano tilt from the same man who gave me the Steinway, to use in easily laying the piano down to do the repair underneath, then pick it up again. When I’m ready to begin the build, I’ll let you know, so that those of you who are interested may follow the process. But first, I want to practice on a lesser known model, since piano restoration and furniture building are new to me.

Other Events in 1866

My study of the history of the Steinway company piqued my curiosity about other events. Particularly, I wanted to know what was going on in the United States and in the world during the year when my Steinway was built. Here are some of the things I discovered:

In the United States

  • March 13 — The United States Congress (Republican majority) overwhelmingly passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, initiating protection of the rights of African-Americans; President Andrew Johnson (D) vetoed the bill on March 27, and Congress overrode his veto on April 9.
  • April 10 — The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was founded in New York City by Henry Bergh.
  • May 16 — The U.S. Congress approved the minting of the nickel as a five-cent coin, and subsequently discontinuing the half-dime.
  • July 24 — Tennessee became the first U.S. State to be readmitted to the Union following the American Civil War.
  • July 25 — Ulysses S. Grant became the first man to hold the rank of General of the Army (now called five-star general).
  • Also in 1866, the Minneapolis Milling Company (now known as General Mills) built its own mills. The history of General Mills is a compelling read.

In the World

  • May 10 — A London bank collapsed, precipitating The Panic of 1866.
  • June 14 — Austria and certain German states declared war on Prussia.
  • June 20 — Italy declared war on Austria.
  • August 23 — The Treaty of Prague ended the Austro-Prussian War.
  • October 12 — The Treaty of Vienna ended the war between Austria and Italy; Venetia was annexed by Italy.
  • Also in 1866, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite in Germany. (With regret for creating an instrument of destruction, he later established the Nobel Peace Prize.)
  • Sweden initiated a series of progressive reforms for women’s rights with recommendations from the Girls’ School Committee of 1866.

In the World

  • May 10 — A London bank collapsed, precipitating The Panic of 1866.
  • June 14 — Austria and certain German states declared war on Prussia.
  • June 20 — Italy declared war on Austria.
  • August 23 — The Treaty of Prague ended the Austro-Prussian War.
  • October 12 — The Treaty of Vienna ended the war between Austria and Italy; Venetia was annexed by Italy.
  • Also in 1866, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite in Germany. (With regret for creating an instrument of destruction, he later established the Nobel Peace Prize.)
  • Sweden initiated a series of progressive reforms for women’s rights with recommendations from the Girls’ School Committee of 1866.

In Music

  • March–December — Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his Symphony No. 1, “Winter Daydreams.”
  • May 30 — Bedrich Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride debuted at the Provisional Theatre in Prague.
  • November 3 — German composer Paul Lincke was born. He is considered the father of the Berlin operetta.
  • Also in 1866, Theodore Thomas conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in the American premiere performance of the Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
  • The first Steinway Hall opened in New York, with a seating capacity of 2000 in the main auditorium.

Bibliography

americanhistory.si.edu

steinway.co.uk

pianobuyer.com

steinway.com

steinwaypianos.com

Steinway Pianos, Part 1

“Today’s Steinway: We still make them like we used to… only better.” So states their official U.S. website. Steinway & Sons has been crafting superior pianos since 1853.

The Founder

Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg was born February 15, 1797, in Wolfshagen, Germany. He served in the German Army from 1812 to 1822, then left the service and began work as a carpenter. While apprenticed to an organ maker, he discovered his love for music. He began making instruments of his own—first guitars and zithers, then gradually escalating to building pianos. In 1836, in the town of Seesen, Germany, he built his first grand piano in his kitchen, and gave it to his bride, Juliane, as a wedding gift. That same year Steinweg moved out of the kitchen and into a shop, where he built nearly 500 more pianos over the next decade—an average of one piano per week. Juliane bore him nine children, and when the family immigrated to the United States in 1850, two of his sons, C. F. Theodor and Wilhelm, remained in Germany to keep the piano shop in operation.

Soon after arriving in the U. S., the Steinweg family americanized their name to Steinway. At first Henry and his sons worked for other companies in the piano business, then on March 5, 1853, they opened Steinway & Sons.

In 1865, tragedy struck the Steinway family when two of the sons, Charles and Henry Jr., as well as the factory foreman Theodore Vogel, all died. In the same year, Albert enlisted in the Union Army (Civil War). With the loss of so much leadership in so short a time, C. F. Theodor sold his share of the German-based company and moved to New York to help keep his father’s company going. Henry Steinway, Sr., died February 7, 1871, just shy of his 74th birthday.

A few of the earliest pianos Henry made in Germany are still in existence. His first piano, nick-named “The Kitchen Piano,” still exists in its original condition. Depending on the source, you may read that it’s on display at the Musical Instrument Museum of Scottsdale, Arizona, at the Steinway & Sons factory in NY, or at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. I don’t think they’re inaccurate. Rather, I’m inclined to believe that the piano has been moved from time to time, and that it has indeed been at all these locations. Although I’m not sure of the date of publication for the various articles I read, I think perhaps today it is at Steinway & Sons. There is a Steinway piano located at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Built in 1868, this one is called the “Plain Grand Style 2,” although when you look at the photo, you’ll see that there’s nothing plain about this model! This was Steinway’s first piano built with 88 keys, and incidentally, the natural keys are black and the sharps are white. It is the prototype for the Steinway Grand Model D.

Early Growth and Continued Production

In just one year Steinway & Sons outgrew their first building and moved to 82 Walker Street. In 1860, just six years later, they constructed what is still today the world’s largest piano factory between 52nd and 53rd Streets, on what is now Park Avenue.

In the late nineteenth century, it was common for piano manufacturers to open their own concert hall in order to showcase the unique voice of their instruments. The first Steinway Hall opened in New York in 1866, with a seating capacity of 2,500, and was the premiere concert hall until the opening of Carnegie Hall in 1891. Another Steinway Hall opened in London, England, in 1875; and in 1880, Steinway & Sons returned to their roots when they expanded the business to Hamburg, Germany. This plant was operated by Henry’s fourth son, William (Wilhelm). A second Steinway Hall in NY was built in 1925, when the first one was closed and the showroom relocated to West 57th Street.

Following the death of the founder in 1871, Steinway & Sons remained under family ownership for another 99 years. Henry Z. Steinway, great-grandson of the founder, was the last family member to participate in the making of Steinway pianos. Until his death in 2008 at the age of 93, he signed every custom-made limited edition piano.

The end of the family ownership was marked by a merger with CBS, Inc., in 1972, although Henry Z. remained president. Then in 1985, a group of Boston businessmen purchased the company and formed Steinway Musical Properties, Inc. This corporation merged with the Selmer Company in 1995, but both companies continued to operate independent of one another until Steinway Musical Properties, Inc. was taken public. John Paulson, of Paulson & Company, bought Steinway and privatized it again in 2013. The new showroom and music hall opened in 2015, at 1133 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue), and the manufacturing plant remains in operation at #1 Steinway Place, Long Island City, NY.

Key to Success

The reason Steinway & Sons has stayed at the top echelon in the piano manufacturing industry is because they continually look for ways to improve the process. I recently took a virtual tour of the Steinway grand production house and was impressed by the number of times that the tour guide said that such-and-such a process only came into use a few years ago, or maybe a decade ago. This tells me that although they already produce one of the finest quality pianos, they never tire of looking for ways to improve. From forming the body of the piano, to outfitting its interior, to applying the finish, to fine-tuning the sound, to packaging the completed piano for shipment, the manufacturing of every individual piano is performed by a symbiosis of man and machine. The few steps done by machine ensure uniformity and precision in the workmanship, while the many steps done by the skilled hands of artisans provide each instrument with its own unique voice while still maintaining that characteristic Steinway look, feel, and sound.

Steinway Contributions to the Industry

Steinway & Sons is responsible for bringing to the industry many qualities and construction techniques that we now think of as standard:

  1. Overstrung grand piano (1859). This means they crossed the bass strings over the treble strings, the way we see them in pianos today. This allowed for longer strings, thus providing a deeper, richer tone.
  2. Iron plate (1866). We’re all familiar with that heavy plate inside the piano. (Some people call it a harp, or mistake it for the soundboard.) The iron plate replaced the wooden one and is able to hold significantly more tension and will not warp over time, as the old wooden plates did.
  3. Accelerated Action (1931). This improved the reaction time of the action pieces when the pianist struck the keys. Steinway pianos have a characteristic double action, which gives them a faster response time than any other piano in existence.
  4. Diaphragmatic soundboard (1936). Since the soundboard is constructed of many thin sheets of spruce, approximately 6 inches wide, glued side-to-side and cut on the diagonal, the addition of ribs on the back of the soundboard give it better durability and stability while still allowing it to vibrate freely with the sound.
  5. Hexagrip pin block (1963). The pinblock is located at the top of the soundboard and houses the tuning pins (220 of them on average) for the strings of the piano. Steinway strengthened the pin block by laminating seven layers of hardwood maple in a staggered grain formation. This innovation improves the overall quality of the sound and allows the piano to hold its tune longer.

The Making of a Steinway

There are more than 12,000 individual parts to a piano, more than half of which are in the action. (Based upon my experience in taking pianos apart, I estimate this number to be representative of all pianos, and not exclusive to the Steinway.) I recently took a virtual tour of the Steinway factory in NY, and I’ll have to say that as one who disassembles pianos, I was fascinated by the reverse process. It gave me a greater appreciation for some of the pieces for which I haven’t yet found a use, such as the bridge and its hitch pins. But, believe me, I will—especially after watching the fine craftsmanship that went into making them. Too much time and effort went into the construction of the various components of these (and other) pianos for me to simply throw away any part of them.

I now invite you to take the same virtual factory tour. This 42-minute tour will walk you through the entire process of the making of a modern-day Steinway grand piano. It truly is an amazing work of art!

Bibliography

Ashley, Larry E. pub. Pierce Piano Atlas. 70th Anniversary Edition. Larry E. Ashley Publishing: Albuquerque, NM, 2017.

americanhistory.si.edu/

britannica.com

steinway.co.uk

steinway.com

steinwaypianos.com

metmuseum.org

Photo courtesy of Luxurious Magazine

O Magnify the Lord with Me

I will bless the LORD at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.

Psalm 34:1-3

As a church musician I know it’s hard to find time to practice a song for a special or offertory. And when you make it a group number, the more people involved, the harder it is to get together for practice.

For that reason, a lot of us prefer to perform solo. It’s easier to prepare, true—but it’s also tempting to get up and “wing it.” Your turn has come, and you’re not ready, so you open the hymnal and sing something, or you pull out a song you’ve done fifteen times already, and you do it again simply because you know it and feel comfortable with it.

But I ask, is that worship? Yes, there are plenty of songs worthy of repeating, but may I challenge you to repeat them because of the message they bear, and not because you were too lazy to learn something new.

May I also challenge you to put together more duets, trios, quartets, and ensembles—both vocal and instrumental. When looking for your next piano offertory, pick a duet, and then pick a partner. Not only does the preparation time unite you with your fellow musicians, forming a special bond of friendship, but it also pleases the Lord when we put forth the effort to strive for excellence in our worship. And it blesses the hearers too.

Just as there’s a time for repeating familiar songs, there’s also a time for solo performances. But group performances should be the rule rather than the exception. I believe this is scriptural. After all, in the Old Testament in particular, where worship music is spoken of quite frequently, it is almost always in the context of choirs and instrumental ensembles.

Are you working on a special for August? Talk with your fellow musicians, and ask them to join you, saying, “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!”


Photo by Mic Narra on Unsplash

Play Skillfully

Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.

Psalm 33:3

It’s hard to hide the music of an instrument. Even when I play my digital piano with headphones on, the others in the room can hear the tap-tap-tapping as I depress the keys.

As a pianist, I love to listen to piano music, and I’m thrilled when I get to hear someone play the difficult pieces with great skill. In fact, I’m awed by it.

I’ve never been able to play a song perfectly, not with consistency anyway. For that reason, I’ve had to learn to hide my mistakes. Some cannot be hidden, at least not from all ears, but most can. I taught my students this same technique. . . .

Practice, practice, practice.

Practice with hands separate.

Practice with hands together.

Pay attention to your fingering. Repeat it measure by measure, line by line, until muscle memory takes over.

Practice with the metronome. Start with a slow and steady tempo, then gradually work up to the indicated tempo. Learn what the proper tempo feels and sounds like.

Turn off the metronome and work on coloring your piece with variations in dynamics and speed. Pull back now and then, but always add back what you take away.

Let it rest, then practice some more.

And when you’ve done all you can do to perfect it, if errors persist, then just keep going.

Don’t stumble.

Don’t fumble.

And whatever you do, when performing, don’t go back and try again to get it right.

Just keep pressing forward with a relaxed expression on your face, and most folks will not even notice. Some may think it was written that way. And those who do hear the mistake will easily forgive it if you don’t call attention to it.

. . .

Some folks are gifted musically, and their fingers, eyes, ears, indeed their entire body flows with the notes on the page. Even they have to work, but their work yields excellent results.

Then there are those of us whose greatest skill is in making the mistake sound as though it belonged there.


Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

No More Pianos, Please

Recently I drove 300+ miles to pick up my final piano. It was my sister’s, and it refused to hold a tune, so I promised her I’d come for it and make something useful and beautiful out of it. But she had to wait several months before I was ready to add anymore piano parts to my already-filled-to-capacity workshop. She was patient, and now her living room has more space.

Over the years many people have donated their old, worn-out pianos to Encore, and I appreciate each one that has come my way. But this lady isn’t as young as she was when she started, and our back yard can’t hold a bigger workshop than the one we already have. So it’s time to say, “No more pianos, please!”

I’m putting it in writing so you all can hold me accountable. For, you see, I’ve said this before. In fact, I told my family that Piano #12 would be my last . . . and then I was offered an 1866 Steinway. Who can say ”no’ to a Steinway? Then came another cascade of offerings, and before long I had rescued 24 pianos from the landfill. My sister’s makes 25. And now I really do need to stop.

There is one instance in which I might would make an exception, and that is if another baby grand were to come my way . . . or, be still my soul, a square grand. In that case, once again, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to say ‘no.’

Just sayin’.

Would you?

Sacrificial Freedom

I will freely sacrifice unto Thee: I will praise Thy name, O Lord, for it is good.

Psalm 54:6

On this Independence Day, I wish to spend a few minutes reflecting upon what true freedom looks like. To some, freedom means being able to do what you please, go where you want, and say what’s on your mind. And while our Constitution does grant us those rights (so long as the expression of our rights does not infringe upon those of others), true freedom is much more basic than that.

Slavery was not forbidden in the Bible: rather, it was considered a fact of life. Masters were instructed to be kind to their slaves (Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1), and slaves likewise were admonished to honor and obey their masters (Tit. 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18). Many slaves were better off in such a condition than they would be on their own. They had a roof over their heads, food to eat, job security, and more. In fact, when the debt was paid, they could choose to become a servant for life (bondslave), and many did, for the love they had for their masters.

Philemon was a slave owner. Paul wrote a letter to him and sent it by the hand of Onesimus, a runaway slave. Onesimus had thought he could get lost in the crowd in Rome, but instead the Lord led him to the doorstep of Paul, who was then a prisoner in that city. Paul led Onesimus to the Lord, discipled him in the teachings of Christ, then sent him back to his master Philemon to right the wrong he had done and suffer whatever punishment he might face. Granted, in the letter, Paul took upon himself Onesimus’s guilt and debt, urging Philemon to accept his slave back as a brother.

The Bible is replete with object lessons that teach us various aspects of our relationship with God. Just as marriage pictures the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31-32), so slavery illustrates the relationship between man and God (Col. 4:1; Eph. 6:5). God created us and sustains our lives. As our Creator, He owns us. We belong to Him. But all of us at one point or another have run away from Him (Isa. 53:6). Yet He in love drew us back to Himself (Isa. 43:1). It is His love for us that motivates us to love and serve Him. I take you back to the verse with which we began:

I will freely sacrifice unto Thee: I will praise Thy name, O Lord, for it is good.

Psalm 54:6

True freedom is not those expressions protected by the Constitution. True freedom comes from God. In Him, you can be free—in your home, on the street, in prison, in a job you hate, in a job you love, whether you are the boss or the employee, whether a student or a graduate, single or married.

If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.

John 8:36

Happy Independence Day to one and all, whether or not you live in the United States of America! Are you free from the power of sin? If you are not yet free in Christ, regardless of your status in society, I pray that today will become your Independence Day.

Image by Simple-aign from Pixabay