Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’m going to tell you about 5 classical music myths. I’m going to finally put these myths to rest! I hear these things all the time. But usually from people who don’t have much exposure to classical music. They just think these things are true, but they’re really not. Are they 100% categorically false? Not all of them. But generally, these things are not necessarily true:
Myth #1 – Classical music is relaxing.
People will say they like classical music because it’s relaxing. And it’s true that some classical music is relaxing. There’s some beautiful music on the piano as well as other instruments. But classical music isn’t just relaxing. It can elicit a wide variety of emotions. It can be angry. It can be scary. It can be exciting! It can be relaxing. It can be contemplative. It can be humorous. There’s a whole range of emotions. It’s not just relaxing. So if you want relaxing music, there are some pieces that are relaxing. For example, Mozart and Brahms offer relaxing music, however. a lot of their music is not relaxing at all! There’s a lot more to classical music than just being relaxing
Myth #2 – Classical music is serious.
I just mentioned that classical music can be humorous. There are many places where Beethoven and other composers have elements of humor in their music. It’s not all serious! Like I said before, classical music has a whole range of emotions.
Myth #3 You have to have training to appreciate classical music
If you have training, it may help you to appreciate classical music. But simply listening to classical music is all you need to appreciate it. If you listen enough you will develop an understanding and appreciation for the music. Listen to the same piece more than once, because you may capture more the second, third or fourth time listening to a piece as you become more familiar with it. So you do not need training to enjoy classical music.
Myth #4 – Classical music is boring.
Once again, if you take the time to become familiar with a piece of classical music, you may find that it’s incredibly enriching! There’s so much there that you might not capture in one listening. It might just go right over your head the first time you listen to it. So you think it’s boring because you didn’t get it. It’s like learning a concept that is a little bit hard to grasp. You might just decide it is too boring and give up. But if you just stay with it a little longer, you may come to understand the concept you didn’t get the first time you are exposed to it. But once you spend the time to become familiar with it, it can be really exciting and enriching once you understand it. The same thing is true with classical music. Once you become familiar with a piece of classical music, it’s not boring, far from it.
Myth #5 – Classical music is for snobs.
This one is tough. Unfortunately, since classical music is not supported by the government, at least in the United States, the only way that it can exist is by donors. So if you do go to the symphony or to the opera, there’s the exclusive section with the gold plaques honoring the donors. And then during intermission. they’re sipping champagne behind velvet ropes. You might say these people are snobs. But thank goodness for these snobs! If they didn’t support the symphony and the opera, as well as chamber music and concert halls, we wouldn’t even have classical music! So you might think of them as snobs. And when you’re on the other side of the velvet ropes, it might feel that way. But in reality, they have a passion for music and they have the means to bring music to people. That is a great service to the community. Are some of them snobs? Absolutely. Some people do it for the wrong reasons. They want to get dressed up and be looked up to. There’s some of that. But the classical music world is so underfunded. They’ll take any support they can get!
Generally speaking, classical music is not just for snobs. It’s for everyone! Once you become familiar with a few key pieces, you’ll fall in love with them. Maybe at first you’ll think those are the only pieces that are worth listening to. But when you open up your horizons and listen to other music, you’ll realize there’s a world of great music for you to enjoy!
Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’m going to tell you about 5 classical music myths. I’m going to finally put these myths to rest! I hear these things all the time. But usually from people who don’t have
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how to project your piano playing in a hall. This isn’t just for when you’re playing in a concert hall. This is actually appropriate for anyone playing in any room. And it’s drastically different from what you might think! I’ll give you an analogy. Let’s say you go to a museum and look at some gorgeous paintings. You see a magnificent impressionist landscape painting from across the room by one of the great French impressionists. And as you get closer, you see the beauty, the colors and the wonderful imagery. But if you get close enough, at a certain point, you just see little jabs of paint all over the canvas. It doesn’t even look like an image anymore! It almost has a grotesque quality to it when you get too close. But when you back up, the beauty of the artwork is revealed.
When you are playing the piano, you are closer to that instrument than anyone who’s listening to you.
You get a skewed idea of the sound you’re creating, because you don’t hear what it sounds like for anybody else. Just like in the museum, being too close to a painting looks angular. If you want your playing to project, particularly in a hall or a church where there’s reverberation, you have to delineate things much more clearly than you ever would imagine. This goes for articulations, phrasings and dynamics. They all have to be exaggerated.
I’ve played in many orchestras as a French hornist. Sometimes a solo is written to be played piano. But a solo that’s written piano for horn, clarinet, oboe, or flute has a much bigger sound when you’re in the orchestra. Because to project even a quiet solo out into the hall requires a tremendous amount of energy. If you play the beginning of a slow movement of a Mozart Sonata in a lackluster fashion, without projecting, as if you just want to hear it for yourself, it may sound fine to you sitting right at the piano. But from even a short distance away someone listening to you probably won’t get a sense of the performance. It’s just out there somewhere and it doesn’t really draw you in. But if you play with much more intensity and articulate all the notes, and more importantly, the line and dynamic changes, then you’ll get something that may sound exaggerated for you. But for someone listening to you, it sounds more distinct. You have to put much more energy into the phrasing. There are bigger rises and falls of dynamics. The articulation, the slurs, and all the little markings are exaggerated and delineated so that it comes through throughout the room. This technique is not just for quiet music. It’s equally important in more heroic music.
This is a really important lesson about how to play for other people.
This is not just for playing in concert halls. Even in your own living room, for people across the room, the sound is dramatically different from sitting right in front of the piano. In order to project your ideas, your interpretation, your musicianship and your concept of the music, you must delineate and exaggerate! It may even have a slightly grotesque quality when you’re playing it, much like looking at an impressionist painting up close. This is because you’re really stretching everything so that it comes across, whether somebody is ten feet away or one hundred feet away. I hope this is a valuable lesson for you!
If you ever have the opportunity to go to a concert hall with a fellow pianist and play for one another, you could try this out for yourself! Or you could even take a recording device. Record it two different ways and see which one you like better! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how to project your piano playing in a hall. This isn’t just for when you’re playing in a concert hall. This is actually appropriate for anyone playing in an
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. Is your left hand bigger than your right hand? This is a great question. My left hand is bigger than my right hand. I bet a lot of you pianists out there find the same thing. You might wonder why. I’m really interested in comments from all of you to see if this is true! I’ve talked to many pianists who have found that their left hands are slightly larger than their right hands. It has nothing to do with being right-handed or left-handed either.
My left hand has a bigger reach than my right hand.
I can barely play white key tenths around the front of the keys. That’s my maximum reach. I’m going to talk more later about how you can overcome small hands and why it doesn’t really matter. Some of the greatest pianists of all time had very small hands, even smaller than mine! I can just barely reach white key 10ths. I don’t really depend upon it. I rarely play tenths because it takes so much time for me to grab tiny slivers of keys. It’s not really very useful. On the right hand, if I try to do the same thing, I absolutely can’t do it at all. I just can’t reach tenths with my right hand. You will find that this is true for most pianists. So you might wonder why this is the case. It might have to do with how much you practice and play the piano. And of course, natural physiology enters into it. I’m sure this is not a hundred percent universal. The reason pianists’ left hands are usually a bit larger is that left-hand parts tend to be more outstretched than right-hand parts. The right-hand usually has the melody. The left hand has accompaniments involving all kinds of stretching. So, your left-hand ends up being ever so slightly bigger than your right hand, generally speaking.
What are some ways to overcome the limitations of small hands on the piano?
I promised you some tips about small hands. I have relatively small hands. I always wanted to play music beyond my reach. I will say this: if you don’t have a solid octave you’re going to have a hard time with a lot of repertoire. Fortunately, you don’t really need much of a reach for baroque music or even most classical period music. Octaves are somewhat prevalent, but the reaches in earlier period music are not nearly as great as later period music. So you still might be okay, at least in some repertoire, if you don’t have good solid octaves. If you want to be able to play bigger reaches than an octave, or you can’t quite reach an octave as well as you’d like, perhaps what you want to do is to break the chords. I’ve talked about this before. When you break chords very quickly on the pedal, it’s hard to tell that you aren’t reaching all the notes at once! So, if you want to play big chords that you can’t possibly reach, how can you play them? Using the pedal while breaking chords very quickly will create the illusion of playing big chords beyond your reach.
Can you stretch your hands to expand your reach?
When I was a kid, my father taught me a stretching technique he had heard about. It involved gently pushing your hands against the keyboard to get a little more reach. I didn’t find this technique to be at all helpful. What did help me enormously was developing more strength for rapidly breaking chords. Chords that were beyond my reach became accessible to me! And, you’re going to find the same thing. So don’t fret if you don’t have a big reach! If you develop strength in your playing, you can learn how to break chords successfully and it sounds great! In fact, a lot of pianists with large hands will choose to break chords because of the richness of the sound it creates. So, get your hands nice and strong and learn how to break chords quickly and you’ll be fine. Just from playing music that has bigger reaches you can develop a slightly larger reach. Since the left hand generally has bigger stretches than the right hand, you will tend to find your left hand reach will be a smidgen larger than your right hand.
Have you noticed this? I’d love to get a conversation started! Let me know in the comments how you feel about this! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. Is your left hand bigger than your right hand? This is a great question. My left hand is bigger than my right hand. I bet a lot of you pianists out there find the same thing. You might wonder why.
The piano world has lost one of the great proponents and innovators with the passing of Joe Ross. Joe has had a profound impact on countless people around the world by creating PianoMart. Ross was a piano technician who had a vision way back in the 1
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about how to start a piece of music. I’ve talked a great deal about how to create tonal balance between the hands. And I’ve talked about using the weight of the arm, transferring weight from note to note in order to create a smooth line. So, instead of just playing a key and having no support, no weight, you actually support the weight of your arm on each key, transferring the weight smoothly from note to note enabling you to get a smooth line where every note plays, no matter how quiet and delicate. That’s the secret to crafting a musical line. But how do you start that first note? How do you get the sound you want out of it?
What’s the analog of diaphragm support on the piano?
To start notes on the horn, you put the breath under pressure and start with the tongue saying, “tu”. On the piano, it’s a little bit different. On piano, you use the weight of the arm to start notes. If you push a key on the piano and you want a certain volume, how do you get the precise volume you want? How can you possibly be assured of that? Well, if you were to lift your arm and your hand, with your wrist bent upward, then bring your hand down while straightening your wrist, you would be increasing the speed your hand hits the keys. But if you do exactly the opposite, it gives you tremendous leverage! You relax your hand letting your hand hang from your limp wrist. And then, as you go down with your arm, you slowly straighten your wrist. So, as your arm goes down, your hand is coming up as you straighten your wrist. By going two different directions at the same time, you can achieve exactly the sound you want. You can start any note at any volume with total assurance! You may want to watch the accompanying video to see this in action.
That is the secret of how to start a piece of music!
Now, of course, there are some pieces that start heroically. If you’re starting a piece like the Military Polonaise of Chopin, there’s no need for lifting. You can just sail right into it. Because when you’re playing with that kind of volume, it will pop just the way you want it to. But starting something like a Chopin Nocturne, this technique will help you get exactly the sound you want. By lifting, letting the wrist go limp, and as you’re going down with the arm coming up with the wrist, you have total control, no matter what piece you’re starting. Even within the piece, sometimes it’s helpful to lift for new phrases. Much like on a wind instrument, when you’re playing each new phrase, you take a breath, put it under pressure, and attack using the tongue. It’s the same thing. Whenever you start a phrase fresh, use this lifting technique. I want you all to try this and see how it helps you to start with precisely the tonal balance you want, right from the very first notes you play. Let me know how this works for you! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about how to start a piece of music. I’ve talked a great deal about how to create tonal balance between the hands. And I’ve talked about using the weight of th
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. I have a tip for your practice that can save you vast amounts of time! The subject today is the secret power of interlocking phrases. I’ll explain what I mean, but first I’m going to give you an idea of how I practice the piano and how I teach others to practice the piano.
There are many different skill sets in practicing the piano.
For example, if you’re accompanying and reading, that’s one type of skill. If you’re improvising, that’s another skill. But if you are memorizing music and you want some tips about that, you’ve come to the right place! Taking a small phrase at a time hands separately and mastering all the elements of the music is the way I’ve been taught to memorize music from the time I started the piano as a young child. My father, Morton Estrin, taught this method. It’s so powerful!
Let’s say you are learning the famous Mozart Sonata K. 545 in C major. Of course you’d want to read through it first to get familiar with it. But then my suggestion is to get right to work and start learning it rather than playing it over and over again. It’s almost impossible to absorb all the thousands of details in the music, because you don’t just have the notes and rhythm. You have to figure out fingering, phrasing, and the expression as well. There’s so much information to digest; which is why you want to learn small chunks at a time, hands separately at first, putting together each phrase, then connecting sections as you learn them.
Taking smaller chunks is great because you’ll never work yourself too hard, which enables you to sustain a longer productive practice.
Let’s say you just take the very first phrase, right-hand alone. You get that memorized. You get it fluid. You check your work. Then you take the left-hand, and you get that perfect. Then you put the hands together, slowly at first. Then you go on and learn the next phrase one hand at a time. You get that memorized hands together. Now you think, great, I’m going to go back to the beginning and connect the phrases. You play the first phrase, which you’ve gotten up to speed. You start slower at first to give yourself a chance to connect the phrases smoothly. But when you reach the end of the first phrase, you feel lost. The tip I’m going to give you is going to make this a fluid process. You will be able to connect your phrases like a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces fit together perfectly right from the get-go!
Go one note beyond so you have a common note between the two phrases.
So, as you learn the right hand, take the first phrase plus the first note of the second phrase. That is the connecting note. You do the same thing with the left hand. And when you put the hands together, you will play through the first phrase landing on the first note of the second phrase. When you learn the next phrase, you do the same thing. This makes it a seamless process to connect phrases as you go. The hardest part about learning music is putting the hands together, which is why you want to solidify each hand separately first, getting them up to tempo, fluid and repeatable. This gives you half a chance of being able to put the hands together to get them memorized. The next hardest thing is connecting phrase to phrase in a smooth manner. By using interlocking phrases this way, where each phrase is going one note beyond, you have that connection note!
This is a great tip that I want all of you to try out! Let me know how it works for you! You’ll find this will save you a lot of time in your practice as you connect your phrases. Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. I have a tip for your practice that can save you vast amounts of time! The subject today is the secret power of interlocking phrases. I’ll explain what I mean, but first I’m going to g
I’m Robert Estrin, and this is LivingPianos.com. Today’s subject is about how you can improve your sight reading by looking at chunks of music. When you first start out it’s really tough just being able to identify notes on the page! Eventually you get to the point where you start to make the relationship between lines and spaces and keys on the piano. So when you see line to line, you skip the space, and when you see space to space, you skip the line, which means you skip a key when you’re going from line to line or space to space. Chords usually are all on lines or all on spaces because they’re built on the interval of a third which is every other note of a scale. Or if you’re going from line to space to line to space, they’re probably going to be consecutive notes on the keyboard. Now, of course, there are black keys. That’s a whole other issue, but this is one way that you can improve your reading, by identifying distances between notes.
When you have really high or low ledger lines, way above or below the staff, sometimes it’s hard to know what the notes are.
There are some little cheats you can use. For example, when you have really high notes, if the bottom note is on a space and the top note is on a space, that’s not an octave. Because octaves are always space to line or line to space. That’s a little tip for you. If you have never really thought about this before, you can sometimes guess the right note if it looks like around an octave. But it better be line to space or space to line, or it’s not an octave. But what I’m talking about today is something quite different.
The secret of sight reading is to look at groups of notes!
At first, when you’re reading, it’s an arduous task. It took me many years to become a good sight reader. The secret is instead of looking note to note, look at groups of notes. Depending upon the piece, sometimes you’ll look at half measures at a time, taking in the entire thing as a digestible chunk you can comprehend. For example, the famous Bach Prelude for The Well-Tempered Clavier Book One in C major is a great example of this because the whole prelude is just broken chords. So if you’re playing the beginning of this piece, there’s no need to look at every note. Once you see the first chord, you can shoot your eyes to the next measure even before you’re there, because you’re already over the chord that you’re playing. This is an ideal piece to check out this technique for yourself if you’ve never done it before, because the entire piece is broken chords. And the whole measure is the same chord repeated twice, broken. You always want to be looking at the next group of notes, getting ahead of where you are. This is an incredibly valuable technique!
You’re never going to be able to read and keep time if you’re looking at each individual note.
This is one of the most important lessons for learning how to read in a fluid manner. Sometimes you have to surmise what the harmonies are and what the composer’s intentions were. There are some scores that are just so dense with notes and articulations! If you’re sight reading, you can’t always take the time to figure out every little detail. Particularly if you are accompanying other musicians.
Nobody wants you to take the time at rehearsal much less performance!
They’d rather you just flesh it out and get a sense of the music. A lot of times, you can kind of guess what the composer intended by seeing enough of the chord structure that you can play what’s written without necessarily seeing every single note. Now, that’s not an ideal situation. But if you’re reading something for the very first time, particularly if you’re playing with other musicians, sometimes that’s necessary.
Try this in your reading!
I’m very interested in how this works for you! Take a piece like Debussy’s 1st Arabesque or Bach’s Prelude in C Major to start, but you can do this with virtually any music! Some music is going to be a lot more difficult to do this technique with. That’s why a Bach fugue is really hard to sight read, because it doesn’t break itself down this way. You have too many separate lines. So this is not 100% foolproof. But in some pieces of music, it’s a godsend! So try it out for yourself and let me know how it works for you! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
I’m Robert Estrin, and this is LivingPianos.com. Today’s subject is about how you can improve your sight reading by looking at chunks of music. When you first start out it’s really tough just being able to identify notes on the page
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today may sound strange to you. Today we’ll be discussing Brahms & Ravel versus Tchaikovsky & Beethoven. What could I possibly be talking about? These are four great composers, and this indeed is not a contest. It’s just an interesting observation, a fundamental difference among composers. There is something that Brahms and Ravel share that distinguishes them from Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. There is a fundamental difference in how they presented their music to the public, which lives on to this day. I wonder, do any of you know what the difference is?
Brahms and Tchaikovsky are both 19th century Romantic composers who wrote a lot of works.
Tchaikovsky wrote six symphonies, and Brahms wrote four symphonies. So the output of Tchaikovsky is a little bit bigger than Brahms in this regard. However, if you look at what orchestras typically program, it’s only three of the Tchaikovsky symphonies that get 90% of the play. The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth symphonies are played constantly. They’re played in public performance and recording. If you were to search out how many different recordings there are of those latter three symphonies, it’s far greater than his first three symphonies. Not that those early works were mediocre, by any stretch of the imagination. However, the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies are arguably better works than his earlier ones.
So what about Brahms? He wrote four symphonies. Could you say that maybe the third and fourth are better than the first two? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, you might have a favorite, but you couldn’t honestly say that any one of those Brahms Symphonies is better than the next. Why is this?
Brahms destroyed any music he didn’t feel was on the absolute highest level!
We don’t know what Brahms wrote that wasn’t his absolute best. Tchaikovsky, on the other hand, wrote a lot of works. Some of them are phenomenally great, for example his B-flat Minor Piano Concerto. Everybody knows and loves that concerto. But that is his second piano concerto. What about his first concerto? I don’t even really know it, and you probably don’t either, because it’s seldom played. The second concerto is a blockbuster everybody knows and loves. So Tchaikovsky released whatever he had, whereas Brahms was more selective. And the same thing is true of Ravel.
Beethoven, on the other hand, wrote nine great symphonies.
Beethoven didn’t write any bad symphonies. However, generally, the odd-numbered symphonies are the ones that are really enriching, and played much more often than the even-numbered ones. They’re all great worthwhile works. But you could arguably say that his third, fifth, seventh and ninth are his most famous works for good reason. Not that any of them are bad works, because it’s all great music! But there are some Beethoven works that are arguably better than others, and have lived on more.
Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas. There are some that are absolutely stupendous! They’re all more than worthwhile. But some are arguably better, like the Appassionata, the Hammerklavier and the Pathetique. Yet Beethoven wrote other sonatas that are not played as much. They’re still worthwhile works. He let it all out, for better or for worse, and they’re all worthwhile! But some are more substantial works than others.
If Brahms and Ravel had released more of their music that wasn’t up to their highest standard, would we be richer for it?
I certainly wouldn’t want to have less Beethoven and Tchaikovsky works out there! Even if some of the pieces are not among the absolute cream of those composers, it’s still nice to be able to hear and enjoy those works. So it’s a different methodology. I’m curious as to what your feeling is about composers being very selective and self-editing (or burning as Brahms did!) before the music even gets out to the public. We only have the greatest works of Brahms and Ravel. But with Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, there are some works that are still great, but not as great as some of their other works.
I hope this has been interesting for you! Let me know how you feel about this in the comments! Can you name composers you feel released things they perhaps shouldn’t have? Or composers you wish had released more? It’s a tough thing as a composer, knowing which compositions to release and which ones to hold back. The same thing is true as a performer. If you have recordings of concerts, or recordings that you made in the studio, which ones should you release and which ones should you hold back? Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today may sound strange to you. Today we’ll be discussing Brahms & Ravel versus Tchaikovsky & Beethoven. What could I possibly be talking about? These are four great comp
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today we have The Man of 1,000 Steinways, The Steinway Hunter, Bob Friedman! Bob Friedman goes way back in the piano industry and has probably found more Steinways than anybody I know! There are a lot of parallels in our lives. Bob is a piano technician, I’m a concert pianist. We both got into pianos because of various reasons and have been involved with them our whole lives. We’re going to have a nice, lively discussion here. So I want to welcome Bob Friedman. Hello Bob!
Hi, Robert, thank you so much for interviewing me. I appreciate it very much.
It’s a real pleasure! For people who are not familiar with you, because you’re kind of invisible to the public, Bob’s the man who locates and provides Steinways to countless piano rebuilders and stores all around the country and around the world. And he’s been doing it a heck of a long time! The parallels in our lives are so interesting. I got into pianos because of my teaching and my performing. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you got into it – as a piano technician. Is that right, Bob?
Yeah. Actually I was speaking with my wife today and realized this is my golden anniversary, 50 years since I put my hands on a piano that needed a little bit of work. Interestingly enough, my father was also a concert pianist, but he never toured. He trained very early in life. But at a certain point in his teens, he put it down. You know as a concert pianist, you’re supposed to take the music out in front of you and memorize it. He refused to do that, so his agent let him walk. He put the piano down shortly after that. He never picked one up again until 1971.
In ’71, I was 17 years old. There was a gentleman who passed away who lived across the street from us who had a beautiful old Sohmer upright. I went into the house and saw the piano. The girl said it was for sale. So I dragged my father in there because I had seen him play at family parties, but I really had no idea how accomplished he was. My mother and I begged him to buy the piano. He didn’t want to do it, but we still begged him to do it. And he did it! He brought the piano home and he wailed on it! He played Rachmaninoff like the day he put the piano down when he was a kid. He’d never forgotten how to play!
I was taking mechanical drafting, architectural blueprint design in high school. I had some really good teachers show me mechanical know-how. The piano had one note that was always not working in the upper register. My father noticed, but he never called anybody in to fix it. So one day when he was at work, I took the action out of the piano. My mother walked through and she said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m going to figure out what’s wrong with this piano.” I noticed that one of the springs was out in the jack that pushes the hammer up and I fixed it! Later that night, he came home from work and I watched as he played the piano. I never told him I had fixed it. He played that note and it worked. He did a double-take. He must have figured it fixed itself! That’s where it started for me. And that was probably 4,000 Steinways ago.
4,000 Steinways, wow!
Well, I lived in a truck for almost 30 years traveling the country buying and selling pianos and meeting everybody I did business with. I’d go to everybody’s homes. I’ve had coffee with more people than Starbucks probably serves!
I just read your book, The Steinway Hunter and I absolutely was drawn page to page. It is really compelling! It’s such a pleasurable read, I highly recommend it. It brought back so many memories of my life after I graduated from music conservatory. I was teaching piano at the time and the first question I would always ask students was, “Do you have a piano?” It was surprising how many people wanted lessons who didn’t have pianos! I knew that wouldn’t work. So that’s how I got into finding pianos. I’m sure we could swap stories about some of the crazy ways we’ve found pianos.
I’ll be honest with you, I probably have 300 stories! But after three years of editing and 20 years of writing I used just 25 stories. I’m not a writer, but with the help of my dear wife and some very highly skilled editors who also had pianos in their lives, we made it happen. All of us had something in common. They love the piano and therefore they helped me with the book. But to finish another set of 30, 40, 50, stories… I mean, we have so many stories. We could probably sit here until all our hair falls out, just telling stories!
I believe you! One of the things about pianos is that you’ve got to move them. I’ve moved hundreds, maybe more than hundreds of pianos. And that was back in the day when they were mostly those big, tall, heavy, upright pianos. I don’t know how I did it! I’m not a big man, but my back to this day, knock on wood, is strong, because I always lifted correctly.
I’ve had nine rescinded discs in my back over the years! But I’ve always strengthened myself and I’ve come back. I had a blue dolly back then. I carry a picture of it with me, because it reminds me of a very good friend who is in the dedications in the book, his name was Henry Karen. And this is actually a picture of Henry’s dolly from when we both had blue dollies. He’s passed on now. He looked just like Jimmy Cagney. He pointed me in a direction when I was very young. He saw that I had a lot of children. I have five children, actually. He saw me driving up in an old beat up Matador wagon with a U-haul on the back. I used to deliver basically no name pianos to him. And then he had one Steinway. He looked at me and said, “You’re never going to be able to support your family with that. That’s the piano you want to go for.” He said, “Go for that, and you’ll do okay.” And that’s where it started. He gave me the tip. He said, “Stay with Steinway.”
In the used market, there’s nothing like Steinway. Everybody knows the name and the power of that company. It’s the piano that everybody looks to restore. Because the fact of the matter is that in the used market, Steinway holds its value better than other pianos. So if somebody’s going to restore and put thousands of dollars into a piano, they might as well put it into a piano that’s going to sell for more. Here at Living Pianos, we actually celebrate all the great American and European pianos, which can represent phenomenal value. And as you well know, each piano is unique. There are some great pianos from a variety of manufacturers. But a great Steinway is still a great piano, and there are always people looking for them.
They call it the standard piano of the industry. What’s interesting is that 1878 was the design of the tubular action frame and the duplex scale. It hasn’t changed much since then.
Yes. It’s kind of amazing that pianos from the 1880s had some of the same scale designs they’re still making today. There was a documentary about Steinway a number of years ago. They said that if you took somebody from the 19th century and transplanted them into the New York factory today, there’d be a couple of new rigs, but they’d be pretty much right at home. Because fundamentally, they build pianos the same way they did over a hundred years ago, which is pretty remarkable.
Absolute geniuses, they were! But they didn’t live long lives because every time they got a disease, it took them over. They almost died from exhaustion because they worked so hard. They were perfecting everything that they did.
I remember back in the day before the internet was a thing my wife and I would hang out downtown. We were living in Bloomington, Indiana. I had graduated from school there in piano performance. I kind of fell in love with the small town. But we would hang out at the bookstand waiting for the Recycler classified newspaper to come out. As soon as it came out, we made a beeline for it to see if there were any good pianos in there. And then we would have quarters in our pockets and go to the nearest payphone, because this was before cell phones. If there were any deals we would try to get there as fast as we could!
You’re absolutely right! That’s very cool!
I always felt that that was the ultimate way to get pianos, to be there first. You gotta get there and find the pianos that really need restoration that somebody else wouldn’t even know what to do with. A diamond in the rough. But then later on, I met people who did things a little differently, more like a patient fisherman casting the net and just waiting, which is another approach instead of the hunter. But since you wrote the book, The Steinway Hunter, obviously you’ve been aggressive in finding these instruments in all sorts of ways. I’m wondering how technology has changed the way you work.
When there was limited technology my mother was a very helpful tool and a catalyst to advertising for me. When I finally decided to go with Steinway and stay with Steinway, my mother worked in USA Today classifieds. This is in one of the stories from my book. My mother and two other women actually designed the USA Today classified network in a Gannett newspaper. They picked three people they thought could put this format together. She explained newspaper networks to me, and there were many newspaper networks in this country at that time. She said, “Go to the library and go in the Gale Book of Publications, and you’ll find every printed newspaper in the country. What you can do is call them up on the phone and just give them your ad.” My ad was,
“Steinway grand piano wanted, any age, any condition, will take cash and pickup,” which means I had to live in a truck for three decades!
There were about 25 networks out there. I had to call them on the phone and ask them to run the ad. They wouldn’t take credit cards in those days. You had to send them a check. So once your check got there, they printed the ad. Then all of a sudden, my ads started running in 15 states at the same time! When the calls started coming in, I had to get in the truck. There were no photographs. You couldn’t do what we do today seeing pictures on the internet of what you’re buying. So I literally had to live in a truck at truck stops because there were no cell phones and there was no GPS. I went into people’s houses and became friendly. I’d make the deal and carry the piano out. And if I wasn’t traveling with another person I’d have to go to the local gin mill and hire some people to help move the piano into the truck.
I’m sure there are a lot of people who are watching this wondering how they can find a Steinway. So here’s a question I have for you: of all the Steinways you’ve seen, about 4,000 Steinways, how many were actually fairly good to go without doing substantial work?
Very, very few. You can have a piano that’s 10 years old, that a cat lived in. You can have a piano that’s five years old, that the dog got jealous of and chewed the legs. In the dead of heat in the summertime when I would go as far as Chicago or Indiana or down to Texas and then come back to New York with 12-16 pianos side-by-side in a 24 foot truck, there was something very interesting that happened. Everybody’s house has a certain scent, whether it’s what they’ve cooked their whole lives or what the animals smell like, whatever it is. Everything your house collects, your piano collects because of the felt in the piano. It picks up the smells of the home. So you have to deodorize the piano when you get it back. But when it gets in the felt, and it’s an 80 or 100 year old piano, you’re not getting it out. So therefore the piano needs restoration, new hammers, new felt everywhere. So when I got back to New York City after one of these trips I opened the back of the truck and the smell from all these pianos being in people’s houses for a hundred years nearly knocked me off the bed! It was so disgusting. It was the smell of every piano that was in everybody’s house for 80, 100 years.
I equated that smell to the smell of success!
Yeah, that’s right. You need to be willing to put that work into them. We get piano consignment offers literally every day. People have pianos for sale and almost everybody says, “The piano’s perfect. It’s great.” But people don’t know how much maintenance a piano requires in order to be good. To give you one extreme example, there was a piano back in Indiana years ago that somebody was trying to sell. They said, “I’ve got this great piano.” So, we went out to look at it. It was way out in the country. When we got there, we were walking through a field. We were led to, believe it or not, a greenhouse! It’s just a dirt floor! We got to the end of it and we saw this big old upright sunken maybe a foot into the mud. You could see that the wood was destroyed. This was a greenhouse. It was humid, of course. So I said, apologetically, “Well, I’m really sorry, but I’m not going to be able to do anything with this piano.” And he said, “Why not?” I said, “Well, there’s obviously some water damage.” And he replied,
“Water damage? That’s not water damage, that was from the fire!”
As if there was something you could do with this old upright, sinking in the mud, that’s been in a fire and gotten wet! So, that’s an extreme example. But when somebody buys a piano with the best intentions and then they never tune it, they don’t understand that a piano degrades just from not playing it and not servicing it. The piano is going to take a tremendous amount of work to get back to any kind of performance level.
That’s one of the reasons I got into wholesale supply, not supplying the public, but supplying dealers. First of all, there’s only so many people in your public area, unless you’re in a very busy area. I didn’t live in a very busy area. But there are thousands of dealers and hundreds of rebuilders, so everybody always needs stock all the time. So it keeps moving. But the reason I got into it was because I would find myself reconditioning and rebuilding a lot of pianos. And in the end, I really couldn’t get the retail money out of them that I wanted because there weren’t enough people in my area to buy. So, I would wholesale to a dealer somewhere, which meant I was kind of wasting my efforts. Because you know how much work it takes to put a piano back in shape when nobody’s taken care of it. I was giving my work away! And I was saying to myself, “If I’m going to continue to give my work away, I’m not going to earn any money.”
So you found a niche for yourself. You’re one of the only people who really specializes in this. And what’s cool is that you’ve managed to transcend into modern technology and the internet, and I’m sure that helps you tremendously. Hopefully you’re not still moving them yourself!
The heaviest thing I pick up now is either a drumstick or a paintbrush.
Maybe I’ll pick up a tennis racket every now and then when my knees allow. But I’m still finding and buying more than 200 pianos a year.
Wow, that’s impressive! What we do here avoids the whole problem of market area, because we started Living Pianos online piano store back in 2006, before everybody else thought of it. And now of course, it’s the way everybody is buying everything! And because of media and the quality of the internet, if you’ve got decent speakers or headphones, you can actually get a really good preview of a piano. Of course, some players have to play the pianos. And we welcome them to fly in, which some people do. But many people don’t have enough experience with pianos anyway. So they trust their ears and have confidence in what we do.
You play so well, and your recordings are so good, that they’re getting almost exactly what it would sound like in their homes. I’ve listened to your recordings. They don’t sway. The volume is right. The instruments are done right.
I was very lucky to not only grow up in a musical household. My father, Morton Estrin, was a concert pianist, but he also had professional recording equipment in his studio in our home. I always got his hand-me-down tape recorders. And I also attended his recording sessions. So I’ve always had a passion for music technology. It goes hand in hand for me. I also love photography. So it kind of takes all my skill sets and wraps them all up. It’s a blast! I get to meet so many people who love the piano. And now I’m getting back to doing a lot of teaching. As a matter of fact, I’ve got students in Australia, Pakistan, Scotland, Alaska, all over the world! The power of the internet is just so incredible, that I can connect with so many great people who love the piano! So anyway, I want to tell everybody that if you are interested in the piano and want some great stories, check out Bob’s book, The Steinway Hunter. It’s a great read! It’s available at Amazon. And also, can you get it at bookstores as well?
You can get it at Barnes and Noble. You can get it at Walmart. But Amazon is the quick one.
I’ll put some links below so that people can check it out. If you love the piano, you’re going to love this book! I want to thank you for the service you do for the whole industry, as well as a secondary way to piano buyers. Who knows how many of these pianos would end up in the landfill if you didn’t rescue them and find people to restore them.
You just gave me chills, because that’s one of the things that actually got me into this. Because when the phone calls started coming in, when I was running nationwide advertising, I would say, “Are you sure you don’t want to keep it in the family?” They’d say “No, we’re downsizing. And if we don’t donate it, we’re just going to have somebody come and take it to the landfill.” I’d say, “Don’t do that!” So you really feel like you’re not just bringing music to people, but you’re keeping these instruments alive! Especially Steinways. They are really made to last. I say it’s a 300 year piano. Steinways that came out of the 1870s, people are restoring now! So if it lasted that long, that means the next restoration will last that long. We won’t be here, but somebody will want these instruments again.
The pianos will still be around! It’s a little bit of living history. I think about the thousands of pianos that Living Pianos has restored and brought back to life. People will pass those instruments down to future generations, because 99% of pianos aren’t made that way anymore. It’s a lost art, that hand work, and the quality of the wood and all that. Before we go, I think you had a couple of artifacts you wanted to share, is that right?
I actually do. There’s a story in the book called, “62554” about an old Steinway upright. It was in my home for a short time and I ended up selling it. The numbers are my birthdate backwards! And what was interesting, but sad, in that my mother had just passed away and I’d had a trip planned. So I waited a week, but then all these appointments were set up across the country, so I had to get on with it!
It was almost three o’clock in the morning when I finally got to a young gentleman’s house in Cleveland. I opened the piano and I saw the numbers backwards and I looked at him and said, “I know those numbers,” then I realized that it was my birthday backwards!
It was almost like from the piano inside looking out at me.
And it was just after my mother had passed away. Some people think it’s creepy. I don’t, because I brought it home and I actually sold it to a couple, a lawyer and accountant, who had a big church they had just rebuilt. When I described the piano to them they said, “That’s exactly what we’re looking for because everything in the church has this design in it.” So they came and they purchased it. It was an 1870s Steinway upright that had been completely restored before I purchased it. The young gentleman’s father had restored the piano. His father had passed away and he sold it to me. And when I sold this piano, they wanted it badly enough to where the price they gave me helped me with a deposit on the house that I raised my children in! So it actually almost felt like my mother was helping me.
That’s an amazing story!
If you buy the book and read “62554,” you’ll understand that one!
I’ll leave you with one interesting coincidence that we once faced here about 10 years ago. We got two Steinway Model M’s from completely different sources. Both in mahogany. We were living in a live work loft in the Santiago Arts District in Orange County, California at the time. The two pianos were right next to each other. And we were shocked to discover that they were one serial number apart! They must’ve been next to each other on the factory floor!
And they stayed together?
We just happened to get them from two different sources and there they were reunited after about 80 years!
Can you believe that? What are the chances of that?
That was meant for you to be there. And we’ve had many things that were meant for us to be there in this industry.
Absolutely! I hope that all the people who have pianos from you and pianos from us are still playing and enjoying them, and that future generations get to enjoy those pianos! I want to thank you so much, Bob, for coming and joining us here! I encourage everyone to get your wonderful book, The Steinway Hunter!
Thank you Robert.
You can find Bob Friedman’s book, The Steinway Hunter HERE!
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today we have The Man of 1,000 Steinways, The Steinway Hunter, Bob Friedman! Bob Friedman goes way back in the piano industry and has probably found more Steinways than anybody I know! There are a