Category Archives: Music

Stieff Plate Removal and Veneer repairs

Disassembly Complete
Yesterday, disassembly came to an end, as I was down to the soundboard! Ryan helped me remove the plate. We used the shop crane to good advantage. I’m glad we had it! Lesson learned: bind points are at the front of the piano, not at the back. Thus, it is important to lift primarily at the front. It wasn’t a problem as we went slowly and monitored progress well.

Piano vintage confirmed:

While the eBay listing for this piano suggested it was made in 1905, the serial number is only three different from my own piano, which had been dated to 1911 by the prior owner. Upon the removal of the plate we found the 100 year old chalk marks on the back which clearly identify this piano as 1911. End of story.

Veneer Repair Begins
My hypothesis is that the piano was stored on its side in a damp location at one time. There is evidence of mold on the soundboard and bridges of the piano. The veneer suffered buckling and separation on the left side. Repair to the buckled veneer is to be as follows:

  1. Rout 1/8″ channel through the buckled veneer at its peak to relieve the buckle.
  2. Re-glue the veneer
  3. Fill the routed channel

The inside veneer was separated at the top. It was re-glued using Titebond glue applied with a veterinary syringe.

Stieff Evaluation and Disassembly

This week, I took a closer look at the piano, while disassembling it. Generally, I found that nothing was worse than I knew it could be, but a few things were not as good as I had hoped:

  • In preparation for measuring downbearing, I attempted to bring the piano up to pitch. I found at least a dozen unisons which would not hold pitch.
  • Almost uniformly, I measured zero downbearing from bottom to top.
  • The source of the veneer damage is certain to be water damage. I think that at one time the piano was stored on its side in damp or wet(!) conditions. There are mold markings on the left side of the sound board and on the bass bridge.
  • The hammers do not look as good as I thought they might be prior to removing the action. I guess that’s to be expected, as you can see them better once the action is removed! In any event, they appear to have been reshaped at some point. The topmost hammer is odd. Hammers in the top octave have worn through to the wood core. It is not clear whether the hammers are original or not.

BUT … I wanted to rebuild a piano, and this is a great one to rebuild.

There are also some really good things about the piano that I appreciate now that I have begun to dismantle.

  • The keybed is flat and looks great!
  • I found a missing ivory keytop inside the case. That should make a complete set. I’m pleased to have an ivory keyboard
  • I should have known (could have looked at my Stieff in the living room), but I am pleased to see agraffes from the bass through the first two thirds of the treble. Theory states that’s good for tuning stability, and that makes sense.
  • The action is really in great condition. It has kept good regulation and aside from hammers shows no serious wear or damage.


More pictures on Flickr.com

Grand Piano for Syracuse Arts Academy

After buying the Stieff grand for myself in October of 2005, I’ve wanted to get back into piano rebuilding … particularly grand rebuilding. I thought it would be good to pick up an inexpensive grand as a first experience with grand rebuilding. I’ve also thought that the foyer of Syracuse Arts Academy (Terri’s new school) should have a grand piano. A grand piano is just a suitable icon for an “arts academy”, and of course it would add to the music program in a “grand way”.

These two objectives came to an obvious conjuncture, when I saw an affordable Stieff piano on eBay. I bought the piano and went to southern California to pick it up on June 9. I hope to have it rebuilt and in the school by October.

The completed eBay auction is here: (Ebay Auction)

I’ll be documenting progress on the project here. Terri took nice pictures of the California move. The pictures are here (Flickr.com).


Piano performance opportunities?

I’m looking for like minded adult piano students in the Ogden area who would like some informal performance opportunities. Perhaps monthly get togethers in the homes of members of our “group”. On a more formal basis, an example of this is the Adult Music Student Forum of the Washington DC area (http://www.amsfperform.org/) I would like more experience performing for others than I get at my teacher’s recitals and playing for friends (they say they enjoy it, though!)

Is there a group in this area like I describe? Or can we form one?

Rhythm Syllables

While working at jazz pieces and some Stephen Heller exercises that have sextuplets (six note patterns in one beat). I needed to add to my counting vocabulary. My earlier training engrained syllables for a few patterns:

eighths: (one-and two-and … )
eighth triplets (one-trip-let two-trip-let … )
sixteenths (one-e-and-a two-e-and-a … )
quarter triplets (over two beats) (one-o-let three-o-let)

The above paradigm provided a specific syllable for each positional timing, and insisted that the first syllable of a pattern be the beat number in the measure. When patterns became more complex you would leave out the unplayed counts. All of this didn’t really help me when getting to the new pattern of sextuplets (e.g. in the patterns of McPartland shown in an earlier post).

Internet research shows that piano educators are in no particular agreement on what’s best, so I came up with something that works for me from the various schools of thought. What I like are pronounceable syllables that roll off the tounge with appropriate syllable emphasis. So for a six syllable word to aid in counting the sextuplets, I use:

  • rump-i-ty-hump-i-ty
  • This “word” places appropriate emphasis on the first and fourth syllables, which helps to keep the note pattern flowing properly. Because “rump” is different than “hump”, the word helps to reinforce where I am in the measure when learning long runs of sextuplets. I also find that hump is naturally stressed somewhat less than rump in the pronounciation of this word. That effect is also appropriate to the playing of sextuplets.

    While researching this, I found one simple phrase that is quite helpful with triplet patterns. I tend to rush them! The following is interesting:

  • stuck-in-gum
  • When used as an aid to counting a triplet pattern among straight eighths or quarter note patterns, it helps me to avoid the rush just because the image of “stuck in gum” slows a guy down a tad. Funny how the mind works!

    This week’s challenge is to learn a septuplet (seven note pattern) among a bunch of sextuplets. In this piece, I’m moving along with a bunch of rumpity-humpities, and now I have to deal with a ??-???-???-??-??-???-??? What is the aid I use?

    What I came up with is:

  • noodle-ee-bee-doodle-ee
  • It rolls off the tounge and places light emphasis on the final syllable. In addition, it focuses the mind on the symmetry of the pattern. (A seven note pattern has middle element –“bee”.) So I know that if I’m playing eighths in the left hand with noodle-ee-bee-doodle-ees in the right hand then the second eighth falls after the bee but before the doodle! I started out toying with noodle-ee-doodle-ee-doo, for septuplets, but that word has a problem! It places a strong emphasis on the last syllable, and I soon found that noodle-ee-doodle-ee was just another pronounciation of rumpity humpity, so it was counter productive. With this pronounciation it was easy to confuse the six note pattern with the seven. The word I chose, noodle-ee-bee-doodle-ee, is suitably distinct as a seven note pattern.

    I’m learning to talk “New Yorker”. So to use my favorite New York slang: How weird is that?

    Here’s some links to material I used in forming my thoughts on the subject.

    Practice Technique: Don’t look at the keys!

    I’m sure its written. I’m sure you’ve heard it. Don’t look at the keys!

    Sure. But when the going gets tough, we look at the keys don’t we?

    I was practicing a line of McPartlands If You Could See Me Now (line 3 Page 46), which has a series of 10ths in the alternating bass line. Tenths are a stretch for me. In fact white key tenths are reached on the tips of the keys, above the key slip. So they are a challenge.

    I found that though I practiced for hours, I really wasn’t getting more consistent at striking the tenths confidently while playing at a good tempo. Then it dawned on me! I was constantly (twice per measure!) moving my eyes from the score to the keyboard. Something had to give. Either the score, or the keyboard. I’m of the opinion that ideally one should get to the point that vision is not essential to performance, so I chose to eliminate sight of the keyboard. (Hopefully the score will go away sometime, but that’s another story)

    To keep my eyes from the keyboard, I wedged three music books between the music desk and the fallboard, so that I was playing with my hands below the books, while I was referencing the score above the books. It really worked! I found that while my vision of the keys was eliminated, my initial performance was no worse than with full sight. Interesting. As I practiced, I found that my accuracy improved. More later … The quest for excellence continues.

    Joy of performance

    When I got back to the piano a few months ago, after a 15+ year absence, I didn’t know what would happen. Ooo boy! A lot has happened. I have practiced with abandon, found a great teacher — Rebecca Wren of Ford Piano Studio — and things really are happening! The joy of it is that I find I can perform at a level which was not a part of me 15 years ago. What a fine feeling.

    For the past two months I’ve been working on learning a piece recorded by Marian McPartland many years ago. The piece is her interpretation of “If You Could See Me Now”. I am working from the transcriptions of Don Sickler and John Oddo: “The Artistry Marian McPartland” (c 1985) I purchased my copy of this book on eBay. Amazon also lists it..

    When first approached two months ago, I thought the first measure of page 48 was going to be out of reach. Today, well … I’m just so happy with it!
    1st measure of page 48

    Here’s an mp3 clip of my playing earlier this evening For me, it’s pure magic!

    You can also hear Marian McPartland’s performance of this piece on Rhapsody (free).

    Piano Performance Anxiety

    Oh darn. I have Piano Performance Anxiety, and no, I’m not going to see a shrink. I’m investing in piano lessons instead. My Christmas present to myself was a 6’2″ grand built by the Charles Stieff Company of Baltimore in 1911.

    Since Christmas, which technically ocurred just before Halloween, I’ve discovered a great deal about myself and my keyboard skills.

    • After several months of dedicated practice, I find that I’m just as good as I was 20 years ago
    • Actually, better!
    • I’m really lousy when anyone is listening!

    This performance anxiety is, in a way, perplexing. I really didn’t anticipate it, since I’ve been performing publicly with my quartet(s) for more that 20 years now! Anxiety at those performances is nil.

    So that gives me something to work on, besides notes! Today I did some interesting reading on the subject, and found two very different, and very interesting articles:
    This article presents some thoughts from the perspective of an accomplished performer, with good advice to the amateur. Included in the thoughts is an interesting practice perspective on the MOTION TO THE OCEAN. The second article, a very personal view on performance anxiety, discloses an obvious truth: Playing the piano is so much fun, why worry about it?