Monday, April 18, 2016

The Piano Diaries PART II

I met a few more new pianos last week.

First of all I started an accompanying job with a new school. The campus is new and beautiful, the choir room the newest and brightest I’ve seen for a junior high school. The piano I got to play on was a little accommodating studio Pearl River, in a warm wood tone and a touch to match. It had a few tuning issues, but on the whole it did the job. Pearl River is a sort of connected with Yamaha, and makes a lower end piano by the name of Essex for Steinway. I don’t know why, I don’t know how these alliances happen, but they are common in the piano manufacturing world.  I’d played one once before in a music store, and thought about buying it as it was priced modestly.  

I only had one rehearsal with the little Pearl River before our performance the next day at Milpitas High School. My warm-up piano was a blonde studio Wurlitzer with a somewhat loose touch, but it was still plugging away. It had put in serious time from the look of it. It made me feel like it had been a hippie back in the day, and was still attempting teenage music. Then we were whisked off to the performance room, where I played a dark wood grained Kimball. A decent little studio but with a rather muffled tone. I had no chance even touching a key before launching into Dona Nobis Pacem. Softer keys wouldn’t play every now and then. This piano worked better for loud songs; it dared me to attempt piano. It could more aptly have been nicknamed Forte. Fortunately for everyone, the next two songs were loud. The piano won in the end.

After that the fun began. Hubby and I decided to do some research on pianos, since we’re in the market. We googled piano stores. Have you ANY idea how many piano stores (and pianos, for that matter) are in the bay area?? And why?? One salesperson’s reason was, “Well, we are in Silicon Valley.” As if that would explain it. I nodded. Best not to let all your ignorance out of the bag at once. I had already run out of samples to play, while my husband’s fingers poured out music as if it was the Trevi fountain at Mardi Gras.

We stopped in at one place near the Winchester Mansion and discovered the 6ft 1 inch Shigeru Kawai grand.  Pause here for effect. Let me just say that this piano has the most beautiful tone and touch I’ve ever experienced. My husband is still talking about it in language that sounds like he’s in love. Sorry Yamaha. Sorry Steinway. Sorry Bosendorfer. You are stellar pianos, all.
Please try one of these new pianos before passing judgement. More on this later.

A bit of a diversion. Thanks to an extremely knowledgeable guy named Jeff, in the middle of this piano playing fantasia, we learned a few things about refurbished pianos. We had called his number because we stopped in at a place that had discount in the name (I know, but pianos are expensive!). We played the only decent choices in the store, two Yamaha grands that looked as if they were shined like the top of the Chrsyler building, as the notorious line from Annie goes.  Looking back I guess they may have had a bit of the Rooster-shyster who almost out-Hanniganed Hannigan. After nearly strapping a six foot Yamaha C3 to the top of our compact car, we got a call from some random guy who was selling a piano for a friend. We weren’t interested in that particular piano, but in conversation with him we learned about the piano gray market. Yep. It is as bad as it sounds. Short story? Pianos built for humid climates (Asia) should not be sent to dry climates (North America). But sometimes they are, and usually these pianos are cheaper. Buyer beware. Check your serial number. They’re all documented.

So, we moved on to the store with the Bosendorfer, the Emperor of Pianos. The oldest piano maker of the modern variety made in Europe and played by the masters, Chopin, Liszt, etc. this piano will be an heirloom, a legacy for your great-grandchildren. That is, if you can afford one. No question it’s a beauty in form and sound. (Some larger ones have more than the standard 88 keys, which is good if you really think more keys will help you play better) Until now, I’d never seen one in person, at least that I was allowed to play. I feel as if the name itself was so intimidating that I didn’t totally get the sample of sound and experience I needed. And, in Bosendorfer’s defense, at this point in the day I had played dozens of pianos and was starting to feel like Lucille Ball working on the chocolate conveyor belt, chocolate stuffed in her mouth and every other available pocket, just to keep up with the constant flow.

Stay tuned for PART III as I need time to digest the rest of the chocolate, er, story, before I go on.

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