Sunday, August 22, 2010

What a song can do to you

In the last two weeks, I’ve probably heard Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s version of “This Masquerade” maybe four times. It’s positively one of the greatest versions of one of the greatest songs ever recorded. And how delighted I was when I found it in one of my real books. And how much more delighted I was when I found I could practice bass-chord technique that my instructor and I discussed and worked on in an effort to revive my playing. But what really revived my playing, more than trying to get back the chops from months ago when I was playing every day, is trying to get that one song to sound right. It just makes me want to play it again and again. Even Mrs. S came into my room one morning when I was practicing before going for my morning walk, long about 5:20 AM. “You’re playing the piano?!” she exclaimed/asked. “Every morning.” And I have stuck with it. I’m actually back on track with my playing.

So this weekend, when I launch back into working on my piano, I’ve got to just keep up with my playing, and in a month or two, the whole package should come together.

Oh, and if you didn’t already draw this conclusion, I bought the CD recording of Kirk’s “TM”. (You can get it on a fantastic double LP on one CD: Kirkatron/Boogie-Woogie String Along For Real.) I'll be listening to it all weekend.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Concert schedule

With the severe heat taking both a psychological and physical toll, not to mention preventing any work being done outside (sanding the piano lid) or inside with open windows (finishing the piano), I took a pass altogether on working on the piano this past weekend. I also started to realize, that if I don’t start playing the piano on a regular basis, when I’m finished with the piano, I’ll be relegating to spending all my time regaining my chops instead of making fine music on my restored antique instrument. So I started working on Hanon and my stride playing, as well as my 2-5-1 chord progressions around the circle of fifths and generally doing some “grunt” work in the musicality area. It served me well, I think.

So, here’s a non-piano related entry I wrote earlier in the week and didn’t post:

After Mrs. S and I made a trip down to Birmingham AL for a Joshua Bell concert a few months back, and it turned out to be not so hard to drive down and back in one night as we thought, we decided to try and attend more concerts in our state’s largest city. Fortunately, in addition to having another concert with Mr. Bell next January, there are also a number of big name jazz stars making their way to The Magic City, and we decided to see the majority of them.

With the likes of Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, and Poncho Sanchez headed our way, we decided to beef up our music collection. Since the only Metheny I have is the collaboration with Brad Mehldau, and I don’t much care for it, we are picking up “Bright Size Life” to beef up the jazz guitar area of our collection. (We already have two Frisell works, including the classic “Have a Little Faith”.) For the prolific Poncho Sanchez, who we had not a single CD of, the choice was not as clear, but we decided to go with “Psychedelic Blues” and “Latin Soul”. I decided also to get Ted Nash’s “Portrait in Seven Shades”, since we heard four of them at the Jazz at Lincoln Center concert in March, and Nikki Yanofsky’s “Nikki”, because I’ve heard three or four tracks from that recording and they are all sensational. (Cracks me up when reviewers on Amazon are like, “She’s going to be really great someday when she gets older.” Those people are obviously not listening closely enough and are making a judgment due to bias and not age impartiality. Neither here nor there…)

I seldom need excuses for buying music, but if I get excuses, like the ones above, I’m sure to get some music.

Lots to listen to when I work on my piano this weekend. (But like I said, I didn’t work on my piano this weekend.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 46 – Monday, August 9 – Making Use of TV Time:

Goals: Anything that can be done while watching TV and drinking wine.

Music: Themes from “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars”.

Yesterday I finally tracked down the screws I needed for the damper arm assemblies. (I actually tracked them down last week, but they were special order; I picked them up yesterday.) With the felt just having been put down, I had no good reason not to reattach the damper arms to their frame. Still, I decided to work on the key felt first.

Although it was not as sticky as I hoped, I had some two-sided tape that was just the same width as the keys, so I decided to attach the small felt pieces using it instead of glue. Some of my double felt pieces had some overlap or were a little uneven and such, so I had to do a lot of trimming of felt. Long story short, in about an hour, I got felt attached to about a third of the keys. I could probably have finished the lot in one night, but it was so tedious and tiring (do you know how hard it is to focus 46-year-old eyes on a TV fifteen feet away and then a piece of quarter inch felt a foot and a half away, then TV, then felt, then TV, then felt…for an hour?), that I decided to work in stages on that and instead moved to the damper arms.

I was able to reattach all the damper arms in exactly one hour.

That was a helluva productive night compared to most Mondays.

Next Monday is the first night of class. I’m enrolled in jazz improvisation, but word has it there are only two students signed up as of now, so it is unlikely the class will be held. We’ll see.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Days 44 and 45 – Saturday, August 7 and Sunday, August 8 – Plugging Away:

Goals: Finish the harp; do any job that is still open that is preventing me from re-installing the harp; continue with the felt work; clean and felt the keys.

Music: Miles Davis’ “The Complete ‘In a Silent Way’ Sessions” (discs 2 and 3); Kenny Dorham’s “Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia” (both discs); Down to the Bone’s “Urban Grooves II” and “Supercharged”; Eldar’s “Live at the Blue Note”. (We’re in the ‘E’s now, but we had to skip Miles Davis’ Complete Columbia Recordings, and we have a slew of Ellington to work through…)

I wish there were some way to better organize the remaining work on the piano, but it seems that everything comes at me sideways, so I’ve been content just tackling whatever job comes my way whenever I think of it. So on Saturday, all I did was punch out all the felt I needed for the damper rods, then reassembled the damper rods. (All 61 of them.) It required a lot of regluing of punchings, as not all of them took to the wood glue. I used a hole puncher to punch out little circles of two sided tape. That worked pretty well. Tedious, but at least the music was good.

Sunday ended up being odd jobs day. I washed all the keys (85 of them). The black ones I just used dish detergent and water, but the white ones, I tried using the Dremel with a kind of scouring pad, but after three keys, it was completely worn out, so I washed them with Soft Scrub with bleach and a good stiff brush, and they came out looking, well not new, but clean and antique. I had to repair six of them, but the end result was a nice looking set of piano keys.

As I washed them, I pulled off all the old felt and the tattered leather strips from the back checks. I took the Dremel and two wire brush fittings to get all the leather and felt remnants off. I’m not really looking forward to putting those suckers back on, but I think if I want to take it slow, I can maybe do that job while watching TV. At least that way, I won’t go insane like I would if I tried to deal with all those tiny felt squares in one sitting.

After completely cleaning the keys, I set about removing the two broken screws that held the center portion of the harp. I used my easy outs to grind away as much of the old screws as possible, then I just drilled until I could insert my screws in the holes. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s feasible and it will look nice.

I briefly sanded the veneer where I tried to cut out the bubble. I’ve decided I’m going to live with it the way it is.

I cut out two large pieces of felt: one for the underside of the damper cover, and one for the damper arms. That was very tricky due to the slight curve of each piece, but it turned out that my felt was almost the exact length when the two pieces were lined up, so I actually did not use much felt to get those two pieces cut out. Gluing them was a little tricky, as I had to use thumbtacks to stretch them to the right size and shape, but they look really nice. I did a good job.

It was definitely a full weekend. Next step is to refinish the piano so I can set about reinstalling the harp. I need a break in the weather to do that, though, as I’m going to want to open the windows to keep those fumes from penetrating the entire house.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 43 - Wednesday, August 4: Pain from a punch

Goals: Make some felt punchings

Music: Charles Mingus' "Mingus, Ah, Um"

My punch kit arrived yesterday, so last night I was anxious to try it out on the felt. It did not work like I hoped or expected, at all. In fact, I’m going to have to come up with some kind of solution. I mean, I was able to punch out one piece of felt, but I did so by pressing and rotating the punch because no amount of pounding would get the punch to penetrate the felt. I was using soft-ish backings, so I guess I really need to get a solid piece of wood that I can bang the crap out of to get the punch to go through the felt. But what a pain. I just wanted to sit and watch TV and snap these things out in short order with little effort and distraction. I don’t really want to have to get a hammer and solid surface and pay attention in order to open up 61 holes. But it looks as though I have no choice.

On another note, the University of Maryland, curator of the Howe Collection of Musical Literature, and whom I contacted about getting some information about C. H. Stone and Company, has notified me that they have two catalogs from the 1880's available for photocopy or digital copy. I'm in the process now of getting one of them sent to me.
Very exciting.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 42 –Sunday, August 1 – Somebody give me a punch

Goals: Finish the damper rods; start work on the stool; clean the damper rods.

Music: Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”; Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch”; Kenny Dorham’s “Afro-Cuban”.

I thought it would be a relatively straightforward kind of productive workday. I saw the tasks laid out before me and was sure I’d be able to get right through them and have them done in an efficient amount of time.

I thought.

Turns out I spent most of my time looking for tools or researching tools or materials that I will need to complete the jobs I saw before me.

The biggest obstacle was a hole punch. Mrs. S is a big-time crafter, hobbyist, jewelry designer, one-time shadow-box-maker, with boxes of tools and craft supplies. I felt sure she had a hole punch that I could use to punch out some felt to finish the damper arms. And while she does indeed have a veritable library of hole punching and design punching tools, a plain old 3/8” round hole punch, which is what I needed, was sorely lacking. I tried a quarter inch punch, but the felt punching that resulted was just too small to do anything with. A failed preliminary search on the Internet led to a two-person tandem search that took a little more than half an hour, and resulted in me buying a hole punch kit (to be delivered by this Wednesday).

So, no punchings to finish the damper rods. I did glue the ones I bought for the upper side onto the wooden disks, so they are ready to attach once I can make the rest of the punchings.

All that, along with polishing the damper cover knobs, occupied the entire afternoon.

Polishing the damper cover holders was fun because, they were a very uniformly, not terribly ugly, flat black, and although I knew they were metal, I suspected they were just lead or tin or something and I was wondering what kind of paint I would use to brighten them up. Turns out a Dremel with a wire brush fitting and a little patience was all it took to bring them back to their glorious shiny brass origins. The before-and-after photo below tells all:

In the morning I used my sanding mouse and the Dremel to start cleaning up the stool parts. Very tedious work, that. Those Dremel wire brushes aren’t cheap, but I’m going through two or three every weekend. When I was completely soaked through with sweat and couldn’t keep from dripping on the stool anymore, I gave that up for the day.

Oh, also in the afternoon, I washed the damper arms. Murphy’s Oil Soap, a bucket, and a sponge. It looks like the upper portion of those arms was some kind of paper, so some of it scraped off, especially on the corners and edges. I’ll either have to leave it as is with that look of worn authenticity but uniformity, or else I’ll have to glue some of my own paper of some design onto it. Not sure how I’ll feel once I’ve got everything in place.

By the way, one of the damper arms had already been broken and repaired once. It needed re-repairing, which was easy enough, but as I’ve been saying, I’m running into a lot of task interference on these various jobs.

I’m not sure that Labor Day is feasible as the day when I’ll be able to play this piano again. We’ll just have to keep pressing forward and see what happens…

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day 41 – Saturday, July 31 – I want to quit harping on this

Goals: Finish the harp; do any job that is still open that is preventing me from re-installing the harp; continue with the felt work.

Music: Miles Davis’ “The Complete ‘In a Silent Way’ Sessions” (disc 1); Chick Corea’s “The Ultimate Adventure”; Chick Corea with Gary Burton’s “The New Crystal Silence” (both discs) and “Crystal Silence”.

After a week where a messed up work schedule that completely altered my work hours (and my sleep hours) kept me from working on the piano, I was anxious to get back to it. I especially wanted to finish up the harp and get it out of the way, as I’m really just tired of looking at it in the garage. So I got up early Saturday to beat the heat and I spray painted it gold. (I had already prepped it by taping the pins and agraffes.) It has a few rough spots, but the overall appearance is fine. I’ll touch it up when I paint between the pins with a fine brush and some touch up paint.

So, rather than prop the harp against the wall, I thought I would go ahead and put it back in the piano. I then thought, well, I’d better try and think of a reason why I shouldn’t put it back; there must be some job I’m forgetting and I’ll have to take the sucker out again. And there was: I still have to remove the two broken screws from the two center holes, a job that creates a lot of metal dust, as I’m basically just grinding them up in the holes they are in. In surveying that job, I realized that the hitch pin blocks could be cleaned up some, especially the corrosion on the pins themselves. I got my Dremel out and took care of that first, creating quite a mess and requiring varnishing of the pin blocks. I cleaned up with a tack cloth and since I had to varnish the pin blocks, I decided to do another coat on the entire soundboard.

All that took all morning. The photo above shows a portion of the cleaned hitch pin block and what it looked like before cleaning.

In the afternoon, I removed all the damper arms from the damper assembly, removed all the damper felt from the damper arms, ground off the remaining glue and felt remnants from the damper arms, removed the felt pads and spacers from the damper rods (photo above shows three of them), separated the felt from the spacers, and cleaned and polished the rods. (There are 61 damper arms and rods, by the way.) That took all afternoon and one recharging of the Dremel’s battery.

I’ll probably want to start on the vintage stool that I bought recently, too. It’s rough, as the photo above shows.

I expect Sunday will be another full day.