Sometime around 1959, in Raymond Washington, I had my first piano lesson. It was on this piano: Schilling and Sons #93032!
Schilling and Sons Upright Piano made in 1926
My mother acquired the piano sometime in the 1940s. My sister Carol, my sister Nadine, and I all learned to play on the Schilling and Sons. Then in 1972, Mom thought she should have a smaller piano for her dining room. So she bought a spinet piano, and as part of the purchase, she arranged free delivery of the Schilling and Sons from Raymond to Carol’s new home in Vancouver, Washington. Carol’s three girls: Angela, Heather, and Tiffany all learned to play on this piano too.
In 2008, at the age of 91, Mom left the Raymond home to live in a senior apartment near Carol’s home in Vancouver. Carol selflessly provided near daily care and support during Mom’s time there. In 2011, with gratitude (and a bit of showmanship), I gave Carol a modern baby grand piano for her birthday. I made the surprise piano delivery, from Utah to Washington, while Carol was on the East Coast for a week. Then I spirited the Schilling and Sons off to Utah to be rebuilt. As it worked out, procrastination and the lack of a plan for that piano meant that it has just been waiting on me these past eight or nine years.
But then, in 2019, the very house we knew as home in Raymond came on the market, and Carol surprised us all by buying it as a family vacation home! It was then obvious what the next stopping point for the Schilling and Sons piano would be!
COVID is upsetting travel plans for this Summer, but today I was pleased to note the completion of work on this family piano.
My dive into digital recording and production started in December with a gift of Ableton LIve! from my son, Ryan McGuire. While he was visiting at Christmas we recorded an earlier release of “Ashokan Farewell” based on my recording with a Yamaha CP33 stage piano. That was a good starting point, but didn’t quite satisfy.
The introduction to digital recording took me down another path in January, as I wanted to record digitally from my Steinway grand. With that I could express my music with the instrument I love to play. Thus I purchased and installed QRS PNOscan system for recording. With this system I recorded the following performance of “Ashokan Farewell”. Ryan rendered it with a PianoTeq 6 Steinway D digital model.
This has been such a satisfying experience! I so appreciate Ryan’s gift of a digital recording system. It has been a joy to collaborate with him. I am also pleased to have preserved this performance. I listen to it today, months after the production, and, with pride, I find it to be remarkable, professional, and refined.
As I work to develop my “Jazz vocabulary”, I wanted an electronic flashcard tool that would help me with ingraining jazz chord patterns at the piano. Since I didn’t find what I wanted, I wrote the app.
It was just four notes that did it; my mind skipped a track from Shenandoah to The Ballad of Pearly Sue!
Four notes: a variation on the theme of Shenandoah and a repeated motif in Pearly Sue!
Though I’ve been practicing the transcription of Keith Jarrett’s Shenandoah performance for months, this four-note passage took me on a crazy incongruous path this morning. Shenandoah is a wistful and mournful piece, which I play while visualizing the cobbled streets of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and the agony that the Civil War brought there. Pearly Sue, though, is an upbeat and joyful expression of life and the self-determination of strong women everywhere. Those four notes triggered a neuron or two and suddenly I was singing a somewhat obscure song of joy, that I hadn’t heard in ten years!
Susannah McCorkle wrote and performed The Ballad of Pearly Sue in 1989: six years after Sally Ride blasted off in a rocket ship. It is an exuberant performance and a marvelous telling of the empowerment of women. It speaks of the strong women in my life and the hope that each of us may chart our own path. It makes me smile, laugh and cry.
Dad was someone who was known as a practical man. He could get things done, and was always looking for the better way to do whatever needed to be done. That better way generally involved Yankee ingenuity, and machines.
1960s: Harvey McGuire (Dad) in the meter shop at Pacific County PUD ( Public Utility District)
This morning I was particularly missing Dad, as he would have enjoyed my project of the morning. I’m not much of a machinist, but my capabilities have been growing, since I acquired and rehabilitated a 1950’s Atlas metal lathe. I bought it out of interest, and also because it could occasionally be useful in piano rebuilding. But why an old Atlas lathe that needed some fix up instead of something new? Because that’s what Dad would have done. As a matter of fact, he once acquired a small fixer-upper Atlas lathe. Unfortunately that fix-up never happened. He just didn’t get around to it. So when I bought the lathe it was for the both of us!
I’m becoming more familiar with the lathe, and this morning I enjoyed a new project making adjustable pedal rods for the 1918 Knabe grand piano I’m working on. The commercial versions weren’t quite right, and … well … I had the lathe!
A custom, adjustable pedal rod. Top post and nut are fabricated from 1/2″ hexagonal stock. 5/16″ brass rod.
If Dad had been here, it would have been fun, and I know exactly what he would have said. He’d gently turn that rod in his massive hands, nod his head and say, “Well, that’s just like downtown.”
Sometimes I think I was born 70 years too late. 70 years too late to participate first hand in the excitement of the industrial age. Every day, though, I touch work that was created decades ago, and have the opportunity to behold the craftsmanship and industrial techniques of piano manufacturing. The work that I do today, rebuilding old instruments, is the same work that was done by original craftsmen decades ago.
As I work, I frequently run across lithographs of piano manufacturing facilities – sometimes stenciled inside a piano lid, and sometimes in historical marketing materials and ephemera. Always, I find these industrial lithographs to be ironic when viewed against today’s environmental strictures. All of the representations of factories show very active smokestacks. It would seem that the smoke, which could have been edited out, was prominent because the smoke implied industrious productivity!
Sometimes I think I was born 70 years too late! But I did come along at the back end of the industrial age. From Riverdale elementary school in Raymond, Washington when I attended from 1958 to 1962, the expansive south-facing windows provided a fine view of the Weyerhauser mill across the river. I could freely daydream from my hard wooden desk watching the smoke patterns against the occasionally blue sky.
Later, when I was in high school, I washed the sidewalks of soot and sawdust in front of The Dennis Company every Saturday morning. One of the old timers in town came by one day and asked if I knew what I was cleaning up! “Sure,” I said, “dirt”.
“No,” he said, “that’s Pay Dirt!”. I learned something about industrial era economics and attitudes from the old guy. He knew, even though I did not, that all that soot and sawdust meant paychecks for everyone in town.
Last night was my first performance with them. We shared a venue at Northridge High School in Layton, UT. For me it brought back many fond memories, and it was just plain fun to be a part of an enthusiastic and talented chorus.
Throw-back Thursday? The photo below was from a “few years ago”.
I recently decided to upgrade from the crude key leveling blocks I had been using, and enjoyed making these blocks.
Working with small pieces like this can be a wood working challenge. Here’s the techniques I used:
I selected a a good long piece of stock (I used walnut) and milled it to 9mm X 25mm. I cut a 4mm X 10 mm slot in each end of the stock with a vertical cut on the tablesaw. With long stock and a tall fence this can be a comfortable, safe operation. This could also be done nicely on the bandsaw. While the stock was still long, I bored the countersinks for the nuts and the concentric through bores for the bolts at the drill press. I bored the countersink slightly smaller than the cross dimension of the hex bolt, so that it could be tapped in for a snug fit. I bored the through hole slightly smaller than the threads of the bolt, so that the wood block would act as a locking mechanism on the bolt. After boring, I cross cut the ends of the long stock to form the 25mm X 30mm blocks. Finally, I secured the nut in the block with a bit of super glue. The bolt I used was a #8 machine screw.