Letter from Tim Baxter

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From: baxdig@mindspring.com.geentroep (Tim Baxter)
To: Mechanical Music Digest <rolls@foxtail.com>
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2003 09:25:15 -0500

Subject: Gerety & Chase MIDI Magnet Valve System

Dear Folks, I am a fortunate 'beta-tester' (if a system with zero problems can be deemed in 'beta testing') of the new Gerety-Chase 'in-line' MIDI valve system. The Gerety-Chase System ('GCS') is designed for use with all pneumatic player devices; it is being used by me in my 1924 Steinway XR equipped with Aeolian's Duo-Art system.

A word first about the instrument. It was fully restored in 1999 by Kirk Russell of Wakefield, RI. 'Fully-restored' here means just that -- all parts of the piano and piano action itself, as well as a full restoration of the Duo-Art mechanism. At full crash, a single note plays at 80 water inches of vacuum; at intensity '0', a single note plays at about 6 inches of vacuum. The piano has an astonishing dynamic range, as these instruments can when properly restored.

Besides having done such an excellent restoration (Kirk is the chief tech at Avery Piano in Providence, RI, which was formerly Steinway's retail outlet in Rhode Island, back before Steinway cut back on the number of its retail dealers), I am very fortunate that the basic piano itself is an outstanding instrument.

I am a fanatic about ambient noise when listening to the rolls, so the pump and motor (though as silent as I've ever heard on a reproducing piano, nickelodeon, orchestrion and the like) are located remotely, in the basement.

As for the system itself, Spencer Chase came personally to Georgia to do the installation (he's probably still reeling from the culture shock). The valves are located in very small (1.4" x 1.5" x 5") separate blocks of 16 valves each. (For the Duo-Art 6 blocks were needed for a total of 92 valves -- 80 notes, 8 for the theme and accompaniment levels, 2 for bass and treble theme, 1 for soft pedal, 1 for sustain pedal -- 4 valves not presently in use.)

The valves sit in front of the bleed rail, and connect to the stack by use of small 'Y' connectors. The entire valve system is then made invisible to the eye by Spencer's ingenious use of a black, spongy fabric which is lined with foam and which he sewed so that the pedal lyre fits in the middle of it, and it is secured by Velcro to the bottom of the stack and to the small wooden strip that it underneath the key bed (and which Aeolian used to hide the various control levers). In some ways, the new cloth is a visual improvement over the original design, as one no longer sees or notices the brass control levers with which one can manually control rolls played on the Duo-Art.

The GCS performs beyond my wildest expectations. A previous manufacturer of MIDI valve systems for pneumatic pianos was unable to ever supply me with a model that could open against the high vacuum levels of the Duo-Art. The GCS has no difficulty whatsoever in playing each and every note, no matter how high the vacuum is, nor how quick the repetition. With the spongy cloth and padding covering the valves, there is really noise from the valve system (of course, with the system this silent, one begins to notice other things -- the somewhat raucous sustain and soft pedals, for example).

As many of you know, I am a roll manufacturer (Meliora Music Rolls), so have no desire to see a demise in the music roll industry. More important, though, is do avoid a demise of these instruments altogether. I think rebuilders need to seriously consider offering this system to their customers when doing rebuilds. I love the 'romance' and period authenticity of playing rolls, and always will. However, I take enormous pleasure from the fact that

I can now:

- choose from approximately 2500 Duo-Art titles instantly; - listen without worry about damaging fragile rolls;

- listen to entire Sonatas, or Symphonies, or Song Cycles, without the distraction of changing rolls; - not be concerned about whether certain companies' recuts are authentically reproduced, or stuffing my tracker bar with 'confetti' and

- Stop lugging rolls up and down from the basement!

I think the GCS can give these classic pneumatic instruments the digital 'edge' they need to compete with the Disklaviers and PianoDiscs. The sad fact is that few customers will care that the older instruments are capable of more realistic and musical performances. If even given an opportunity to think about a comparison, they will quickly apprehend that the solenoid pianos more easily 'play themselves' by virtue of the digital interface. The GCS can overcome this formidable barrier.

I may also be wrong about this, but if a customer can afford to spend $14,000 for a Yamaha Disklavier upright and upwards of $22,000 for a Disklavier Grand, they can get a GOOD piano (Steinway, Weber, Mason & Hamlin, Knabe, Chickering -- fully restored, both player and piano) for a lot less, even including the GCS (which I understand will retail between ($2,500 and $3,500; probably less for dealers).

I have not priced what the cheaper sorts of solenoid pianos retail for, but surely someone could get a better quality reproducing piano, fully restored, with one of these systems for less AND get a much better piano. Heck, even the 'lower tier' of Aeolian and American Piano products (i.e., J.C. Fischer, Haynes Bros., Steck, Stroud) have to be better than a lot of these cheaper, new models (I also have a 'Original-Built' Welte piano manufactured by Estey -- at which many folks on the MMD would turn down their noses -- but as it was built in the 'golden era,' it's a pretty good instrument).

I think the foregoing is especially true if one cares more about classical performances, where there will be a large library of Classical performances available from the Duo-Art, Ampico (and eventually) Welte libraries. Obviously, nobody's putting excerpts from 'The Lion King' on a Duo-Art, Ampico or Welte roll.* If, though, someone follows through and determines a way to 'translate' modern MIDI performances into coding for the older reproducing piano systems, even this hurdle will not exist.

One more issue for present owners, and/or new owners, of reproducing pianos. The cost of the system pays for itself in the size of the library you can acquire. For example, you purchase the entire Spencer Chase catalog of rolls for approximately $800, which includes about 2000 titles. Assume the system costs $3000, and you have to spend $800 for the entire library ($3800). You've just acquired 2000 rolls for $1.90 each. If you're used to paying b/w $12 and $20 each for reproducing piano rolls, this is actually a bargain.

I haven't even addressed the issue of FINDING the rolls; one is subjected to the whims of eccentric manufacturers like those people at Meliora Music Rolls in having to purchase only what THEY choose to offer to sale the roll-hungry public. Who wants to deal with that? ;-)

Finally, we all know the original rolls are crumbling into dust (ESPECIALLY the Duo-Art rolls!). Assuming proper quality control on the roll scanning process, the sale of these systems furthers the goal of roll preservation; the rolls must perforce be scanned for use with these systems, and are thus preserved in the process.

I would be pleased to answer any questions about this product via e-mail. Timothy Baxter - Meliora Music Rolls

* I should mention that another thrill of owning this system is to make my coding of new Duo-Art performances easier. I use Richard Brandle's excellent 'Wind' computer program to create Duo-Art rolls from MIDI performances. I can now instantly check the coding as I go along using the GCS. I also play the GCS using 'WindPlay,' specifically designed by Mr. Brandle for playing rolls on a MIDI valve system. --------------------

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