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Visit to grand piano atelier

The train ride from Amsterdam Central to Zaandam was 15 minutes, exactly the length of time it took André to drive from his grand piano workshop to Zaandam train station to pick me up.

After corresponding for several months about my piano dilemma, we finally and inevitably met. Since last year I had several choices to get a grand piano under my control to practise on: sell my grand piano in London and buy a new one here, move my grand piano to Holland, restore one of André's piano's in storage, or buy a grand piano in Holland (from a shop, from the second-hand market, etc). In the end, I decided to buy a second-hand grand piano in Holland for André to restore.

"You have the Rolls Royce of grand pianos," he said. "But there are several things that need to be done. And I'd advise that you get them done now."

I liked the grand piano ("vleugel" in Dutch) when I played on it for the first time. It brought tears to my eyes. I liked the tone, and I liked the size. Other than fixing the cracks in the soundboard and improving the French polish of the case work, what else could it possibly need?

"The cracks in the soundboard can be fixed," he assured me. "But we will have to take it apart and let it dry for a week or two. Meanwhile, we can restring the vleugel, fix the cracks in the ivory keys, add the assistance springs to the action, and spray the frame in proper Steinway colour."

Colour? Who cares about colour? Strings? They look fine to me. Assistance springs? The piano is fine the way it is.

Together with the other four professionals in the atelier in Wormeveer, André showed me why additional work was needed. Without the assistance springs, the keys required more weight to press which would tire my arms easily. The current colour is totally wrong and actually fake. The strings are worn and have to be replaced. If the cracks aren't fixed, the ivory keys will fall off.

After pointing out all the things that were wrong with my newly purchased vleugel, André reassured me that it was still a great buy. "Even a brand new Yamaha C3 can't compare with the sound of your piano," he said.

A piano is like a person. You're attracted to him initially because he looks good, sounds good, and makes you feel good when you interact with him. Even as you get to know him, you can be fooled by your expectation of what he is like and biased by the investment you've made in him. But when you take him apart, you see which bits are worn, which bits are rotten, which bits are fake, and which bits are missing. A professional would advise you to replace the bits that are worn, rotten, and fake. And he would advise which missing pieces need filling. But it would require time. And during that time, you would have to make do with a replacement.

"How long will it take to make all these changes?" I asked.

"Let me put it this way. I will make sure that I get it to you before I leave for my holidays."

"Great!" I said. "Then I'll plan on having a Steinway warming party when you get back. Would you care to give a short talk about the piano then?"

"Sure," he said. "I'd be glad to."

28 April 2004 Wednesday

Related links:
Steinway to heaven
Piano shop on the left bank
Piano dilemma
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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku

writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page.
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