The Mystery of Bruce Springsteen’s Piano

via the Asbury Park Press

Marilyn Rocky of Little Silver is a little off-key when it comes to the house at 7½ West End Court in Long Branch.

You see, she owned the house when Bruce Springsteen was the tenant there in 1974 and ’75, and when she sold the house 20 years ago, something was lost in the transaction: the piano Springsteen wrote “Born to Run” on.

Springsteen saxophonist Clarence Clemons told Rocky that the band had signed the instrument under the lid.

“Hey Landlordess,” Clemons said to Rocky at a chance meeting at a Red Bank dentist. “After we finished ‘Born to Run,’ we all autographed it with the date, so it’s there for you .”

This was news to Rocky. She had left the piano, a small spinet Springsteen had brought when he moved in, with the house’s subsequent tenants. It had remained in the living room for 20 years. Meanwhile, “Born to Run” made the band stars and put the Jersey Shore on the musical map.

“I called the tenant and said, ‘Before you leave, I want to pick up the piano in the living room,’ ” Rocky said. “He says, ‘That’s a problem.’ He said, ‘I was getting rid of all the junk, and I put it on the curb with all the other junk. It’s funny because when I got up the next morning, all the junk was still out there, and the only thing missing was the piano.’ ”

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One-handed pianist proves the critics wrong

NICHOLAS McCarthy was told as a teenager that he was wasting everyone’s time by trying to learn the piano with only one hand.

But the 26-year-old has proved the critics wrong, becoming the first one-handed pianist to complete their studies at the Royal College of Music and last month releasing his first album.

McCarthy, who was born without his right hand, achieved his ambition by playing music written specifically for the left hand, including works by the Austrian composer Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in the First World War.

He says a combination of “clever writing by the composer and fast passage work and footwork on the pedal” combine to create the illusion that there are two hands playing.

A 90-minute recital is physically exhausting and McCarthy reveals he must work out physically and well as put in hours on daily practice to perform to the high standard required of the world classical concert circuit.

“The stamina is the difficult thing I find and I do a lot of running to keep that stamina as high as possible so I can cope on stage,” he says.

Remarkably, McCarthy, who’s from Tadworth, Surrey, didn’t start piano until he was 14. “I come from a very unmusical family; my family are just normal hard working people,” he says.

“Classical music never crossed my mind as I hadn’t been exposed to it.

“Then all of a sudden at 14 I heard a friend of mine, who was a very accomplished pianist, playing Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata.

“I found it amazing and decided there and then I wanted to become a concert musician.”

He has never let his disability hinder his ambition and even at a young age showed determination in becoming the first child on his neighbourhood to ride a bike without training wheels.

“People would expect me not to bother or not succeed and I was always determined to prove them wrong. That part of my personality obviously helped me succeed with the piano.”

His advice to other people with disabilities is to believe that “anything is possible”.

“With hard work and determination they can achieve their goals by focusing and keeping that momentum going in their head and not listening to others saying they can’t do it.”

An ambassador for several music education charities, McCarthy will be making his Irish premiere this weekend at the Belfast International Arts Festival and also giving a workshop to young people.

“I like exposing young people to classical music because many, like I did, automatically think they don’t like classical music,” he says.

And his advice on teaching children piano?

“The biggest problem is keeping students interested and intrigued until they are at a standard where they can play more difficult pieces. Rather than force them to play Bach, if you can hone their technique through a piece they recognise and enjoy you are going to get them to go to the piano on their own accord and practice.”

McCarthy’s album, entitled Solo, offers a snapshot of the repertoire that exists for the left hand as well as paint a portrait of him as a future composer, with three of his own arrangements. He is keen to further develop this side of his music.

“I won’t be composing a symphony, rather writing music that people can relate to and music which makes them happy,” he says.

While already in talks about about a new album, McCarthy is content with his gradual rise to fame.

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After 300 Years Of Evolution, Has The Piano Reached Acoustic Perfection?

via Gizmodo

The modern piano evolved rapidly in the first 150 years after its invention, but it is now so good, acoustically, that it probably won’t change much more in the future.

That’s the conclusion of acoustician Nicholas Giordano, dean of Auburn University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics in Alabama. He described his work last month at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Jacksonville, Florida.

Giordano’s interest in the instrument dates back to first learning how to play piano as an adult, when his teacher introduced him to Baroque composers like Bach. Giordano decided to build his own harpsichord so he could play Bach on a period instrument, thereby experiencing what the music sounded like in the composer’s era. He enjoyed the project so much that he kept at it, acquiring early pianos and rebuilding them in his spare time. His collection now numbers 21 instruments, the oldest of which is a close relative to the harpsichord, the bentside spinet, dating back to 1703 (when Bach was just a teenager).

After 300 Years Of Evolution, Has The Piano Reached Acoustic Perfection?

That experience has given him valuable insight into how the instrument has evolved from its earliest days.

Bartolomeo Cristofori, instrument maker to the Medici family in Florence, Italy, built the first piano 300 years ago. It was very similar to the harpsichord, except with a harpsichord the strings are plucked (like a guitar), and with the piano the strings are struck with a hammer. Christofori figured out how to control how hard the player could press the key, thereby varying the volume of each tone.

Instrument makers spent the next three centuries improving on this design. According to Giordano, the earliest pianos only had 49 notes, covering four octaves. It was good enough for Bach and his contemporaries, but Mozart might have found that range a bit too limiting; by his time, the range had expanded to five octaves.

By the time Beethoven rolled around in the early 1800s, he had a full six octaves (73 notes) to work with, and piano makers had also added the ability of vary the loudness of notes. The pianos of Beethoven’s era also had sturdier construction and higher string tension; Giordano told Gizmodo that these innovations “led to expressive possibilities not possible within the harpsichord to organ.” (You can listen to audio clips of a Mozart sonata being played on an old vs. modern piano here.)

Later composers like Brahms and Rachmaninoff composed for pianos “powerful enough to play with a full modern orchestra.” In addition, the modern piano design also has better “action” than those earliest instruments — that’s the mechanism that connects the key level to the hammer, which strikes the strings. It’s faster and more responsive today, which means the performer has much greater tonal control, further enhancing the expressive possibilities. Louder sounds meant more reverberation, and led to stronger cases: metal plates are now added to strengthen the case.

Modern pianos have seven octaves (plus a minor third, for a total of 88 notes), and that’s where it’s stayed for the last 150 years, even though the human ear is sensitive to a much wider range of frequencies than those covered by the piano’s keys. Giordano thinks this is because of how human beings perceive notes beyond the piano’s range. Below that range, most people hear the notes as decidedly un-musical clicks. Above the piano’s range, we can’t pick up combinations of two or more notes to form chords.

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