Note by Note

One of my Distance Mastery students, Dan up in Seattle, sent me a note recently about a documentary film he had seen. It is called Note by Note The Making of Steinway 1037.
It is currently showing at Portland’s Historic Hollywood Theater

This is the story of building a Steinway concert Grand Piano. I went to see the movie last week with some of my Mastery students. Fascinating stuff. I have only one complaint with the film. It is far too short.

It was of course a great effort to get as much into those 90 minutes as they did. So many steps, so many processes, so many people to include, and then to get it into the hands of musicians who could make the behemoth sing! An incredible journey touched by so many hands.

There was so much great information but also hints, glimpses, teases of so many of the processes. As a woodworker I was of course fascinated by the tools you saw or saw in the back ground. The great and powerful horizontal saw for truing up the rim, the little 36″ band saw [very much like our Yates] sitting in the machine room, the clamps. The Clamps! And jigs for clamping up the rim! Now we’re talking a bent lamination here! How many were there? Five or six men to pull it all together with block and tackle. A fascinating process to watch.

There were just so many questions that I had about the steps involved. Yes you could play the beast too and that was lovely but I wanted to know more about the woods involved. Was there only spruce in it or did I see poplar in that bend? And the front curves near the keyboard, was that a veneer or shaped in the solid? Did they use ivory for the keys still or what was used now? Why did the rim sit for six months after gluing? How many rims did they have curing in that room? How much stress did those strings take on? And how did they make the metal plate that fit inside? Did that cabinetmaker drill all those holes at an angle, three in a row down the entire soundboard without a jig, without a template, and perfectly? ? Or so it seemed.

One of the shop foreman was lamenting the fact that cabinet makers were a dying breed. That you couldn’t go out on the street and find these kinds of workers any longer. I lament the fact that only the rich or the lucky would get to touch such an instrument. That the kind of work these craftspeople put into each piano would only be touched by a few. Heard, yes heard by many, perhaps. But touched. Well only the few get to touch. And that’s a lament of this age. That too few of us get to touch what others have really made true with their hearts and hands.

Lamentations aside. Those of you in Portland have two nights left to see this film. Then it goes away. It’s a treat. Go see it.

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Published in: on March 6, 2008 at 2:10 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for the heads-up Gary; I had no idea this film even existed and I drive by the Hollywood every day on my way home from work.

    There is a new show on one of the cable channels called “Some Assembly Required” which spends the hour showing semi-detailed manufacturing processes for two or three items. One episode spends a fair amount of time on the Steinway, showing many of the processes you talk about here. (yes, the cabinet maker drills all of those holes free-hand). You should check it out; it seems like the TV show would make a good supplement to the documentary.

  2. NetFlix aso lists this as a DVD that might be available in the future. It is not available yet; NetFlix customers can add it to their “Saved” list, and it will migrate to their Queue when it becomes available for rental on DVD.

  3. The movie was fantastic, I really enjoyed it, and I’m glad you posted a blog about it.


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