Science Friction

Nightmares abound of situations where one is placed in a preposterous position and required to accomplish impossible tasks.  We all have them and they haunt us perpetually.

The scene that I’m about to describe (the sign post up ahead) is the Twilight Zone of working as a concert technician.

I was contracted to sit in on a concert (as a stand-by tech) during the performance of a renowned  pianist at a local venue in early summer a few years ago. I placed myself in the upper balcony.

The forthcoming performance was disastrous!

When Maestro entered the stage the audience applauded enthusiastically as he was introduced and seated himself at the piano.  The program was “Pictures at an exhibition” by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky.

The composition is a series of short character pieces that depict the composer’s impression of various visual displays that one might encounter in a museum or art gallery. (if you’re not familiar with the piece you can find recordings of it on YouTube). Many of these short pieces are quite challenging for any pianist and require technical expertise that only a devoted and talented musician can pull off on a concert stage.

I knew that the gentleman performing before us possessed all of those traits; but as he progressed through the series, I could see that he was struggling with the instrument.  It was painful to watch and listen to.

Finally, during intermission, I was able to approach the stage and a closer inspection of the piano confirmed my suspensions about why he was laboring over the performance.  It had nothing to do with his skill or artistry (both of which I knew to be impeccable).  The piano was in an atrocious state of disrepair.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do anything to help Maestro on that night but I was able to convince the venue to con-scribe my services for the requisite regulation and voicing (12 hours) to make the instrument concert ready.

I’ve been caring for that piano since then and have attended many concerts in that hall, by world famous musicians playing on that instrument. They all love it! (Now)


Science Friction — 3 Comments

  1. You have an infinitely interesting life (despite how much that sounds like one of those black “crystal ” balls)

  2. Maybe you could describe in more detail what you discovered in the piano that was giving him so much trouble and why you chose the title for this post (which I don’t understand).

    • The most glaring deficit in that piano (although there were many others) was that the hammers were escaping almost half an inch from the strings.

      In a properly regulated piano action, the hammers should release (escape) from the players control just before they hit the string (~1/16th of an inch). This gives the player the ability to play at whatever dynamic level he chooses (thunderously loud or whisper soft).

      With the hammer let-off set so far from the strings he had no choice but to play really loud all the time (basically throwing the hammers at the strings) just to get it to make any sound at all.

      It’s physically impossible to produce any kind of aesthetically acceptable music from a piano in that condition.

      In this case he could only play at two volume levels – loud & inaudible. He had virtually no control over the dynamics (loud and soft) of the notes he was playing.

      I have great respect and admiration for maestros efforts that night and, as a pianist myself, deep sympathy and compassion for what must have been a horrific nightmare for him while performing on an unfamiliar and unresponsive instrument.


      I apologize for the somewhat cryptic title that I chose for this post. I often make the mistake of obscuring the intended point of my stories behind shades of my personality.

      Try to keep an open mind and investigate everything that you don’t understand.
      And, above all else, please don’t stop asking questions.

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