Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Old Piano Roll Blues

Even if I weren't planning a wedding, I would still have weddings on my mind: my brother has been constantly playing Pachelbel's Canon on the piano for the past two weeks to the point where I feel like I'm on the set of "A Wedding Story." The kicker? My brother doesn't even know how to play the piano. My parents have owned a player piano since I was in high school, but in those days playing it was more of a workout than an enjoyable entertainment. Because the bellows were completely worn out, you had to pedal the thing like you were coming down the home stretch of the Tour de France in order to get enough air to make the music play. Eventually we just stopped playing it because we didn't want to make it worse. But I'm happy to report that finally, after all these years, the player piano has been restored to its original glory. This year my dad was able to find a man who replaced all the broken parts, fixed every little thing, and polished the piano up and down, inside and out. Then he ordered a bunch of new piano rolls from QRS, which has been making popular songs into player piano rolls since the 1920s, apparently. Now we have a growing library of piano roll songs from classical (Pachelbel, Chopin, Strauss) to show-tunes (Phantom of the Opera, The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof) to older and more authentic favorites from the golden age of the player piano, such as "Nola," "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover" and "Come Back to Sorrento." Then there are random Polish polkas and stuff like "Dixie." Some of the rolls are very old and fragile, and can hardly play at all. Some, despite their age, seem just as good as new. All of them are fun. In fact, now that supper is over, the sun has gone down, and the day's chores are done, it might be a good idea to play "Yellow Bird" or "Hawaiian Love Song" as the family gathers round the piano to sing along.

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