If pianos could talk…

I came across this autograph in a piano today and, while I’m no handwriting expert, it looks identical to the official Jose Iturbi autographs I found on Google.


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I wish this Baldwin Acrosonic console that my clients in West Linn, Oregon recently got for free could tell the story of how one of the most well-known conductors and pianists of his time (who cameo’d in some of my favorite 1950s MGM musicals) once laid his hands on the keys.

According to my trusty Pierce Piano Atlas, the piano was manufactured in 1965, presumably at the Baldwin headquarters in Cincinnati, OH. There’s no other hint of where it has been, no old business cards from piano tuners, nothing written on any of the hammers, only this autograph from a world-renowned musician.

As a technician, I can mainly see the story of a piano based on the wear of the parts, the fade of the finish, the shine (or not) of the copper strings that may or may not indicate that the instrument has been rebuilt at some point. But that doesn’t tell me where it’s been (though sometimes I can guess), how far it’s traveled, how many people have learned to play on it, or how many lives it has managed to touch when music erupted from underneath someone’s fingers.

No matter what the particular story of this particular piano, it’s also the story of the American piano industry, proud and dominant, then persistent through the years of the Great Depression when hundreds upon hundreds of manufacturers went out of business, to bowing out one by one to the four currently left standing: Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, Charles Walter, and Shadd.

The whispers of past dominance are still tantalizing, still making me marvel at the history and what we could learn, if only the pianos could talk.

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