I was telling a friend the other day about pianos made with glass soundboards, instead of the usual spruce. (Left: rear view of upright with glass soundboard.) Glass? If it's not wood, it's not a piano, he said. "We might as well just have digital pianos." Then he laughed, "Do I sound like an old fart?"
I'm not sure glass soundboards are the way of the future, but not all change is bad. In fact, the piano has gone through many changes over the years. The piano Mozart used had only five octaves (compared with the more than eight we have today) and no sustain pedals. Even poor Beethoven would only know 6 1/2 octaves on the piano (although he seemed to do okay with those).
As the range increased. the string tension increased. Piano makers also began to use triple stringing (three strings per note or unison in most of the piano), adding to this tension. This resulted in what was known as "cheek disease" -- the caving in of the treble end of the piano. Not to mention problems with tuning stability ...
How would they solve this? Metal braces and iron bars were tried, but it was the introduction of a one-piece cast-iron plate that would do the trick, and that we still use today. There was some grumbling. The plate caused "a decided injury to tone," said Thomas Loud Jr., a Philadelphia piano maker.
What would Tom Jr. say about the glass soundboard?
I watched some videos of people playing these glass soundboard pianos on Youtube, but I think I'd really have to hear it in person to come to any conclusions. It certainly has the benefit of being immune to changes in humidity -- this means it will last longer than wood, and will also allow for greater tuning stability. The maker, STEMCO, also claims it has a warm and more homogenous tone, among other things. What do you think?
On Sunday, March 13, the Pender Harbour Music Society presented a concert with Musica Intima, an a capella group with a reputation as Canada's most exciting vocal ensemble. As a singer, I'm a little biased, but there is something special about the sound of the human voice -- its incredible versatility and the variety of sound produced. After all, no two voices are exactly alike because no two people are exactly alike. For a singer, their whole body is the instrument. Not only vocal chords but the bone structure of a singer's face factor into the character of sound. I've explored classical singing as well as jazz, pop, weird improvised layered things I made with GarageBand, which I, mercifully, no longer have access to. I've tried overtone singing, been to plenty of workshops with singers flailing arms or rolling around the floor and vocalizing to match our movements. I've been told to "sing from my vagina," and have also basically passed on that same advice to a student or two.
Musica Intima did not disappoint. Their sets ranged in style from 16th century French song to contemporary Canadian soundscapes evoking cellphones and automated messages. Sometimes playful (as when imitating bird song, one of the sopranos comically tilting her head like a bird who's just had his morning coffee), and sometimes heart-wrenching. I went to the concert with Ken who, I learned, is that person in the audience that can't help saying "Wow" when moved at the end of a piece. I had to second that emotion, and by the end of the concert, was wiping some tears away, feeling a little too emotional to schmooze, something I'm not very good at anyway. I did manage to speak briefly with tenor Taka Shimojima. I wanted to tell him how much I appreciated his voice, and how I would have loved to hear him sing the lead on all of "Con Toda Palabra," by Lhasa. If you're not familiar with the late, great Canadian vocalist and songwriter Lhasa de Sela, I'd recommend tracking down some albums. She sings with a fado style, mixed with a sensual latin sensibility. Her voice is low, perpetually in mourning -- or more like devastated. Shimojima's voice, on the other hand, has a gentle, feminine quality -- something I really love in a male voice, and find it so fantastic to hear male voices singing songs we typically hear female voices do. And vice versa for that matter.
But my favourite piece was "Ecce Homo," by Jeffrey Ryan. This piece reminds me of the work of one of my all time favourite composers, Arvo Part. Musica Intima performed this piece in a circle, their backs to the outside of the ring. The sopranos had their backs directly to the audience, and something magical happened to the sound of their voices when singing to the back of the room -- to me, they transformed into Chinese violins (Er Hu), which are two-stringed violins. Rather than explain the composition, I'll just recommend Jeffrey Ryan's website, where he has a sample track: http://jeffreyryan.com/works/choral/ecce-homo-choral-version/
You can learn more about the Pender Harbour Music Society's fantastic series online.
Well, this wasn't really a "review." This really was a rambling blog post, something I'm not used to doing ...
And now, just so my rank in search engines benefits from this post, I should probably say thanks for reading, people on the Sunshine Coast of BC. And if you need your piano tuned, drop me a line! (Search engines like key phrases like "Sunshine Coast BC piano tuning." That should do it!)