Sunday, January 10, 2010

Observations on two pianos played over the holidays

Shortly before Christmas, we went to the home of My Work Buddy Jeff*. He has three children, and we've been trying to get our families together since shortly after I (and, as it turns out, he) joined our Small Canadian Software Company last May. Having finally settled on a time and date, we bravely set out through lousy weather for his home in a northern Chicago suburb.

* - How Jeff and I know each other is not complicated, but it is hard to label. Simply put, Jeff is the sales rep I work with. He and I represent the entirety of our Small Canadian Software Company's existence in the Central US. Which means, even though he sometimes assigns me work, he's not my manager (I have one of those, he's in Boston). But he's not really my peer either. So Sue and I weren't sure what to call him when we were telling the kids where we were going. "My work friend?" In the end, we just settled on "Jeff".

Jeff is the person who makes lots of calls, identifies sales opportunities, and charms the potential customer into hearing what we have to say. He then hands the conversation over to me to do the impressive demos / proofs of concept / trial implementations. Upon successful completion of all that, I then I hand it back to him so he can talk about really boring things like contract terms and conditions. He's done this for a very long time, is very good at it, and I'm glad to be working with him. Jeff is a good guy, and I look up to him in some ways, but we're very different, as our roles might suggest. One thing that Jeff is NOT is a piano person. "Oh, that's my wife's thing. I let her handle all that. Getting the kids set up with lessons, recitals, that's her thing." He told me that she bought a piano a few year back, but had no idea what it was, or even whether it was an upright or a grand*.

* - Jeff is not a details person. Unless we're talking Squawk Box.

So imagine my surprise when, upon getting the tour of the large and lovely home in the northern Chicago suburbs, I see that the piano in Jeff's music room is a sharp-looking Charles Walter upright. Some of you may know that I have a soft spot for Charles Walter pianos. They are one of only three American piano manufacturers making pianos today. Their pianos are, according to those qualified to say such things, engineering marvels, as well as being musically responsive. As a result, their uprights play bigger than they are. And they give heavy discounts to churches, which I think is pretty cool. Their factory is a short drive away in Elkhart, Indiana. Some day, I'd like to think we'll pay them a visit. If Jeff and I can sell any* software, that is.

* - More correctly, if Jeff and I can sell lots and lots of software. We have quite a few other priorities to take care of first.

I tell you this so that you'll understand I am, admittedly, predisposed towards liking this piano. And understand that I didn't play much on it... just a little here and there while dishes were being done. So my impressions are brief and should probably be taken with more than a few grains of salt. Bad news first: it was horribly out of tune. And smaller than I thought, though it's arguable whether that is truly bad news. And that's about it. What a wonderful little piano! Deeper in the bass than the piano Jillian and I take our lessons on, which is saying something for a little upright. Wonderful, even touch. But what I like most was something I couldn't really identify until I observed an extreme lack of it in the next piano. And since I don't really know what to call it, I will call it clarity. The notes were very distinct, even during the fast (and pedaled) passages of I Due Fiumi. There are parts of that piece that have sounded muddy on every piano I have ever played them on, including my buddy's Steinway back in November. I figured I was doing something wrong. Turns out, this piano had exceptional clarity, and didn't sound muddy at all in those tricky passages.

This particular characteristic, as a result, has suddenly jumped to near the top of the list of things I am looking for in the event we ever go piano shopping.

In Houston, we visited a friend who has medium-sized Young Chang grand. Beautiful piano. Most powerful bass I have ever played... it really thundered. But the action was very, very heavy, and, again, it was way out of tune. Most of all, as I have already hinted from my comments above on Jeff's Charles Walter, this piano lacked any clarity at all. Notes really ran together in a muddled mess, and I confess I don't understand how or why. But they did, and to be honest, this piano was very difficult to play. I'm sure this can be regulated somehow, but again, I know nothing about these things.

Anyhow, this is a fun little hobby, trying out pianos. I'll let you know when I get to play others.

- Aw2pp causes confusion and delay.

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