Strolling up Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland, one can’t help but hear the sounds of ragtime music drifting from the Refreshment Corner where there sits a pianist tinkling the ivories on one of the most played pianos in the world.
The Yamaha model YUS1 upright the pianist plays has been faithfully making those melodic sounds since it was placed there more than five years ago, the latest in a long line of pianos at that spot for decades.
“These pianos will get played hours a day,” said David Durben, a piano service specialist with Yamaha Corporation of America.
Yamaha supplies all the musical instruments at the Disneyland Resort, and that includes pianos of all kinds, from grand pianos in settings like the Grand Califonian Hotel, to the one at the Refreshment Corner, where it sits, most days, outside — meaning the weather is a major factor in how the piano sounds.
“There’s a great deal of wool felt used in the piano’s moving parts, like its hammers. That wool felt swells and shrinks with the heat and especially with the humidity,” Durben said.
That humidity makes the felt heavier, and the piano harder to play, but the show must go on; the pianists know that on those days, they just have to play the keys harder.
While Disneyland specialists constantly maintain the piano, keeping it in tune, sometimes something, like the shank for a particular note’s hammer, will break. But that doesn’t put the piano out of action for very long.
“We provide Disney with spare parts. They can change out whole key sets in a matter of minutes,” Durben said.
Then the whole key set can go back to a shop for more extensive repairs while the pianist starts playing again.
The music they play ranges from ragtime, with the most requested song being “The Maple Leaf Rag,” according to “Ragtime” Robert Gillum, one of the regular pianists.
Besides ragtime, they also play many Disney songs, and when those are played, many visitors will start singing along and even make requests for specific Disney songs.
“‘Part of Your World’ from ‘The Little Mermaid’ is one of the most popular, and usually the girls who want to sing that, can sing, as they’re theater majors,” he said.
The ragtime pianists Disneyland employs are not the only ones to play the piano. Sometimes a guest will ask to play the piano, as 11-year-old Lacey Fuller of Plumas Lake, Ca., recently did when she stepped up to ask Gillum if she could try her hand at playing it.
He stepped out of the way as she sat down and started to play a ragtime tune. She did so well that she earned herself some applause from Gillum and the crowd around the piano. Gillum gave her a card with her name on it congratulating her on being an authentic ragtime pianist at Refreshment Corner.