Well, it's been another beautiful day of slush-rain. You know, that stuff that falls from the sky, heavy blobs about the consistency of bird crap? At least it's not sticking any more. There was about six days when I couldn't even get my car up the driveway. Of course it doesn't occur to a West-Coast girl like myself to shovel the snow. Why would I do that?, we ask ourselves. It won't stick. It'll melt by noon! By five o'clock we'll be firing up the barbecue, breaking in this year's Teva sandals as we fill the neighbourhood with the aroma of charred salmon. Oh yeah, it's great to live on the Sunshine Coast.
Indeed, I recall many-a-March, my dad squatting outside by the hibachi on the porch of our Fort Langley home, bragging to no one in particular about what fine, mild weather we have here in southwest BC.
It's been difficult for us West-Coasters, eh? Nobody cares, though. They just don't get it. We're not like you, we tell them. We don't have ice scrapers and snow shovels and long undewear! That's for the ROC, man. (Rest of Canada.)
My partner is from Montreal and she wears gloves in March! Can you believe this? Crazy-making. I can't do that. That would require I give up living in denial about the weather.
What does this have to do with piano tuning on the Sunshine Coast? Well, if you're piano is anything like mine, it's probably sorely out of tune following this unseasonably (or maybe it is seasonably) weather we've been having. Yes, changes in humidity are the devil. Forget tritones -- an out-of-tune piano is the most sinister sound around. Let me exorcise it from your home! If the past is any kind of teacher, then we should accept we still have a bit of winter left for staying inside and brooding over the ivories, plodding along in minor keys, something evocative of the "Song of the Volga Boatmen" perhaps. You know, to reflect our struggle here, our yo-heave-ho-ing along despite the hardships of slush-rain. There's something in this song about singing to the sun, but I assume the sun is behind clouds and they are just trying to get it to come out, you know, to stop the slush-rain.
At any rate, perhaps it is time to polish our barbecue tools. Have hope! Persevere! Ayda-da-ayda!
Thank you to everyone who completed the survey I circulated, asking you about your piano needs. I wrote all your names on little pieces of paper, closed my eyes, shuffled it all up and selected the winner of the free tuning. And the winner is .... Steve! If you're name is not Steve, you did not win. If your name is Steve and you just received an email from me telling you, Steve, that you are the winner, then you DID win. Yay!
I hope you've all had a grand ole December with relatively in-tune pianos, something which is actually a bit of a tall order this time of year. It snowed, it was cold, we stoked the fire, kept the wood heat burning all through the night, drying out our homes and consequently throwing pianos noticeably out. Ken said he measured the relative humidity in his wood-heated space and it was down to 38% (unlike our usual Sunshine Coast relative humidity of 110%?),
These changes in humidity don't just affect the tuning, but the touch, and can even cause structural damage if the change is dramatic enough. Here is a link to what Yamaha says about caring for your piano: http://ca.yamaha.com/en/support/caring_for_your_piano/
Yup, not only do pianos go out of tune, but they also go "out of touch." Changes in humidity and wear on felt and leather, even tiny amounts, can cause a piano to go out of regulation. You may have noticed your piano just doesn't feel as smooth as it used to, or is harder to play softly. Maybe you just feel like you have less control. I can help restore the touch of your piano. If one of your resolutions this year is to play more, treat yourself to an instrument you can really enjoy spending time with.
Best wishes for 2017!
A decaying house, dust sheets on the furniture, creaking floors and a pigeon suddenly bursting from the rafters, or something like that. Something bad is going to happen in this movie -- you can tell because there is a very low sustained note. And then, the distant sound of a sorely out-of-tune piano. Where is this sound coming from? Is there a ghost in the attic, tickling the ivories, which are literally ivories because the piano would definitely not be a recent model?
Yes, terribly out-of-tune pianos sound creepy, but you can only know for sure if you're piano is haunted after you tune it.
There is no hard and fast rule as to how often you should tune your piano, but a well-maintained piano is generally tuned once or twice a year. Concert pianos are tuned before every performance. In fact, a keen player may detect their concert piano slip out of tune during the performance – as the audience fills a small venue, and hot stage lights shine down on the strings, the combination of increased humidity and heat is enough to affect the tuning. Not significantly enough for anyone to notice anything but the virtuosic performance, of course.
Rick Baldassin, RPT, is one of the piano industry's most honoured technician. He says, “The piano must be nearly in tune before it can be tuned.”
So what happens when the piano is not “nearly in tune”? How near is “nearly in tune”?
Piano technicians talk about changes in pitch in terms of “cents.” The distance between one note and the semitone above or below it is 100 cents. So half a semitone is 50 cents, a quarter is 25 cents and so on.
From spring to fall, it is not uncommon for a well-maintained piano to drop 3-5 cents in pitch. (This is the result of changes in humidity – in spring and summer, without heaters on or fireplaces roaring and with the windows open to let in our Sunshine Coast seaside air, humidity is significantly higher in our homes than in the winter months.) Unfortunately, the pitch does not drop the same amount for every string. Typically, the pitch shifts much more in the middle of the piano. The result is a piano that is out of tune.
When tuning a piano, we check how many cents flat or sharp it is as this will determine whether or not the piano requires a pitch-raise before tuning. If the piano is significantly flat, we must bring it up to pitch first. It is like making a bust: you can't begin detailing the eye until you've shaped the blob of clay into something resembling a head. Once the pitch-raise is complete, the technician goes through the piano again, this time tuning more precisely.
In Mario Igrec’s comprehensive book, Pianos Inside Out, he writes, “A piano can be considered ‘under pitch’ when it is more than 5 cents too low. A discrepancy of as little as 3 cents can be destabilizing enough to merit treating the tuning as a pitch raise.” This is not to say a piano can’t be stable when raising the pitch 5 cents. In fact, I’ve encountered some strange pianos that seem stable after raising the pitch as much as 20 cents! This is not typical … spooky, right? Right?
But given how much a piano can change from season to season, just imagine what happens to the pitch after three years, five years or even ten years without a tuning!
If it’s been so long since the piano was tuned that you can’t remember if your kids were in high school or kindergarten at the time, the piano, without a doubt, requires a pitch raise as well as follow up tunings before stability returns. After ten years without a tuning, I would not be surprised to find the piano 30 cents or more flat. If the piano is 50 cents or more flat, Mario Igrec advises that you “re-tune the piano twice within 1-6 weeks.” If less than 50 cents, you will still want to have it re-tuned once more in that space of time. If it continues to sound great after raising the pitch 50 cents and no follow-up tuning is necessary, well, then you have a haunted piano.
Now, was that helpful or what?
Scary video, right?
Outdoor pianos are certainly popular these days. This trend is largely thanks to Luke Jerram, a British artist who created the project, Play Me, I’m Yours. Since 2008, Play Me, I'm Yours has installed over 1500 pianos in more than fifty cities around the world. Jerram says of his project, "Questioning the rules and ownership of public space Play Me, I'm Yours is a provocation, inviting the public to engage with, activate and take ownership of their urban environment."
It certainly transforms a space. Thisshort film reveals what happens to a particular space with the introduction of the “People’s Piano.” What I find most moving in this film is the smiles that Giles describes, the introduction of unexpected, magical moments into everyday life, in a setting like this – a subway entrance – where the magical and musical doesn’t typically occur.
This magical quality is one of the reasons sound designer and vocalist Viviane Houle chose to incorporate outdoor pianos into the upcoming Only Animal Theatre production of Tinkers in Roberts Creek, BC.
From their website:
Tinkers is an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Paul Harding. This new transcendentalist work features an intimate and dazzling relationship with the natural world, woven into a story of family karma. Through an intergenerational story we meet a young boy and his search for his long-lost father Howard, the epileptic peddler with donkey and wagon, estranged from his family, and ever-ecstatic in his relationship with nature. Tinkers asks us how we collect together all the pieces of a relationship that has come apart, and tinker, tinker to bring it together again.
With a growing set crafted by German environmental art star, Cornelia Konrads, an off-grid sound score and puppets made from found materials, Tinkers looks at how people creating in nature exemplify the transcendent possibilities of Human Nature.
Literally set in the woods, this “roving forest immersion” features a completely off-the-grid sound design. This is no easy task. Without the use of any recorded sound, amplification, electricity or batteries, how would you create the sound of car tires on a gravel road? How about the sound of the motor?
One of my challenges in connection with the show is going to be tuning the piano later this week. In an outdoor environment, it’s not possible for a piano to stay in tune very long – consider the humidity during an afternoon rainshower compared to that during a cool, clear summer night. My goal will be the same as always: make the piano sound the best it can.
The People’s Piano had the good fortune of being on one piano technician’s route to work. This guy couldn’t help but stop and offer it a little TLC now and then. But despite how out of tune it may be, people are compelled to play or drawn to listen. For many, an out of tune piano simply sounds like an old piano, and this is evocative – haunting, even magical.
Regardless of your sound associations, I’m certain Tinkers will be a magical theatre experience!
Tinkers runs from July 25 to August 7, 2016. Learn more by visiting http://www.theonlyanimal.com/show/tinkers.
And to see more super-cool outdoor pianos, courtesy of Play Me, I'm Yours, check out this list!