Letter from Tom

If your browser saves pages, click "refresh" to see the latest version of this page.



From: tom-com@pacbell.net.geentroep (Tom Jacobs)(fwd)
To: rolls@foxtail.com
Date: Sat, 15 Feb 2003 21:39:37 -0800
Subject: Grandmother's Steinway Grand Duo-Ar


I am writing about my Duo-Art piano being played by digital rollsstored on a laptop computer. The saga of my Duo-Art will follow thisstory of latest improvement in my machine. I have come to love theDuo-Art and piano music in general. (I went to see Lang Lang playRachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the San Francisco Symphonya couple of weeks ago. Wow!)
A real problem has been the rolls. Finding them, storing them,maintaining the condition of them (sitting like a worried mother overmy Gershwin rolls as they rewind), and getting up to change them.These problems no longer exist for me since Spencer Chase installedhis eroll system in my piano.

Now let me first say that I am a condition freak. I collect books andVictorian antiques and love everything to be original. I don't likemy kerosene lamps wired. I don't like Phillips head screws in my 1891door hinges. I did not want in any way to mar my piano or havesomething obviously new replacing old original parts.

Other than a laptop computer that I can hide, my piano is 1927original. The operating end is a series of little electric valves allof which sit on top of a two-inch piece of cherry wood hidden up behindthe foot pedals. They are controlled by the computer and connected tomy tubing so that they may control the piano as if a roll were playing.

Now I have nearly 2000 rolls at my fingertips and they will playcontinuously (the only limitation is the motor heating up aftercontinuous playing). No tracking errors, just perfect playing. Thescreen displays a simulated tracker bar during playing and you canwatch the electronic perforations scroll across the screen as it plays.It also displays the technical information such as sustain, vacuumlevels, and levels in the theme and accompaniment. If you love yourDuo-Art this is a 'must have'. Ask Spencer the technical questions.You can contact him at <spencer@spencerserolls.com>

Now the story of my piano. About 1927 my great-grandmother had themoney and good taste to buy a Steinway grand Duo-Art from Sherman andClay in San Francisco. It is a beautiful mission style made withgorgeous grained wood. The piano passed into the hands of my grandmotherin the late 1940's and sat in her living room for 50 years. I rememberher demonstrating the player for me in the 1950's when I was a childbut as years went on the player stopped working.

My grandmother was fond of playing the piano and used the pianoconventionally. About 1970 she had a tuner come to tune the piano.He asked to buy it and when she said no he proceeded to tell her hecould make the piano sound better if he took out the old player parts.My grandmother was a great lady but had no appreciation for the manybeautiful things she inherited. She allowed him to gut the piano andwas going to give him the parts.

During the disemboweling she happened to call my mother and tell herwhat was happening and asked if she should give the parts to the tuner.By a stroke of luck I happened to be at home and when presented withthe question told her to have the parts put in the basement. Therethey sat for 25 years in a pile.

Meanwhile I became a dentist and came to live in the house. One ofmy patients has an upright Steinway Duo-Art and somehow we got on thesubject. He told me he could probably put the piano back together andover the next year did just that, carefully restoring the pneumaticsand putting everything in the right place without any sort of plans.He should have been a dentist with the precision work he did.

One day I came home from the office and there was a note on the pianowith instructions and a roll already mounted. I flicked the switchesand the piano fired up. It brought tears to my eyes. After the manyyears and near destruction, it was playing again. I called mygrandmother who was living outside the house and had the piano playingin the background. I asked her if she knew what was playing and shesaid she didn't know the song! I told her that it was the player,playing again. I was so happy to have her live long enough to hearthe piano again.
As the caretaker of the Duo-Art I continued to improve the machine.I recently had the action rebuilt and the 1927 strings replaced.It is magnificent! The piano sparkles and with the computer playingit, it is a real joy to own.

Tom Jacobs
San Rafael, California

Click Here to return to the MIDI Valve Main Page