You should read the 280 page book Piano by James Barron! Piano, is the fascinating tale of a Steinway concert grand piano starting when the wood is harvested, to when the piano is rolled into the showroom.
Piano is a unique book, instead of having a human main character the K082 (name of the piano) is the main character! There are important humans in the book too, these characters merely have two chapters in the book. Intermittently taking breaks from K082, Piano also follows the history of the Steinway and Sons Co. Given to me by my piano teacher, Piano is a book I have always loved and have re-read many times because it’s always as interesting and entertaining as the first time!
Imagine you’re standing in the middle of a British Columbian oak forest. Then, imagine you’re standing in the Steinway show room in New York, among some of the best and most expensive pianos in the world! Piano is the story of how those British Columbian trees are made into world class pianos!
We start off in the NYC Steinway factory with Gurrando, an American-Serbian. Gurrando is standing in a room with ten other men, a lot of oak planks, special glue and 15 min to kick off K082’s journey to become a concert grand piano! At exactly 8:00 am it starts! K082’s rims are put into place and glued. The quality of this job will determine the fate of K082. If someone walked in the room they would think Gurrando is a slob and rim bending is a disorganised mess! They couldn’t be more wrong. The process is HIGHLY choreographed and tools are put in specific places so someone doesn’t have to go: “Hey Jim will ya’ hand me that wrench?” Everything is in a specific place so the right person can have the right tool at the right time!
Next Mr.Barron explains Steinways theory of anti-manufacturing. All of Steinways competitors (ie. Yamaha, Baldwin and Chickering) make there pianos in a factory with machines. Steinway pianos are 100% handmade, Steinway says that by hand making them they get the human touch that no other pianos gets! Equally amazing is that Steinway pianos are made the same as they had been since 1911 (in 1911 NY Steinways changed from square corners to rounded corners, that’s how you tell a German Steinway and NY Steinway apart)!
K082 will go through many changes after it departs from Gurrando’s care. The piano will get legs, strings all other rim parts, as well as its signature ebony black color. K082 also soon will get the most important part (arguably) part no.81. Part no.81 is the sounding board. The sounding board is what gives a piano its life and sound. Enter Lee Morton. Lee is a liaison between logging companies in British Columbia and Steinway. He makes sure that Steinway gets the highest quality wood for part no.81. Since sounding boards are extremely important, Steinway gets “first pick.” Next the violinist get to choose their wood. They are followed by the guitarist, airplane manufactures and so on. Even though Steinway gets first pick they still only use about half of the wood they purchase since there’s a chance of knots or other imperfections!
I like the way the author took a break from K082 about every two chapters in order to discuss anti-manufacturing, or the next era of Steinway’s interesting history, and follow the part of Theodore Steinway in his quest to create a more perfect piano company, no matter how well it’s doing! The author, Mr.Barron, takes a break from K082 to explain the mechanics of a piano so the reader can understand the book at a higher level!
I noticed how the author treats K082 like a human. K082 is like a little child. Everyone is doing their part to shape the child’s personality and make it the best it can be. Mr.Barron treats K082 similar to a human that is going through phases of its life: gathering intelligence and trying to be the best it can, (like a loyal worker at a successful mom-and-pop company)!
I think the author did a wonderful job with writing the book but he should have included Steinways plan for the future. This would be important because companies have always had to face a challenge and need a concrete plan to make them successful.I would have been interested to learn about current issues facing the Steinway company and their strategies for the future
One passage I found interesting was: “When ever Theodore Steinway was introduced at a cocktail party, people would say “You’re in the piano business? That doesn’t exist anymore.”
They had a point that piano sales peaked in 1905.” I think this passage is interesting because it shows the difficulties Steinway faces. It also shows how Steinway is, in such a difficult market, but they have always triumphed and profited!
I would rate this book 9/10!
1 thought on “Conor Glynn’s Letter-Essay #3: Piano”
Excellent blog post, Conor, and a great letter-essay on a nonfiction book.