music, technology & life in pasadena, california


Recent ad seen on craigslist:

RARE Left-hand strung piano
Date: 2007-09-03, 7:53PM CDT

This piano is one of only a handful (probably the left hand full) that were built with the high notes "al sinistra" (on the left end) and low notes "al rechta" (on right). These pianos were originally built to be sold in southern hemisphere countries where, because of the perceived "backward" spin of the earth, audio vibrations travel in a counter-clockwise direction.

The reversed placement of the treble and bass keys allows pianists from these southern nations to play northern European piano literature without having to relearn the notes. It does require that the score be transfered to onion skin vellum, laid in reverse on a copy machine and photocopied in reverse so that the music flows from right to left on the page. Several collections of reverse-hand piano literature might be found on yAbe (the southern hemisphere internet auction site, based in Australia.)

This instrument is one of the rare ones located in the U.S. It would fit well in a left-handed house, where right-hand pianos tend to stick out into traffic flow and look out windows with not necessarily the best views. You will need to reverse the hinges on the front door of houses in order for the left-handed piano to fit through the opening and fit around the corner to the parlor. Instructions for this re-hinging process can be found at

September 24, 2007 | Link to this entry

Mamet on Hard Work, Part 1

For any person not familiar with David Mamet and his work, one need only to watch several of his brilliant movies to see the milieu he creates and works in. Glengarry Glen Ross, The Spanish Prisoner, Heist and The Winslow Boy are just a few of my favorites. He treats the audience as intelligent beings, itself a rarity these days, and takes them on a journey of drama unmatched in contemporary cinema, often with plot twists that make your head spin.

In David Mamet’s latest book, Bambi vs. Godzilla - On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright offers a close, hilarious, but true insider’s view of the movie business as it exists today. In other words, he rips it a new one.

In the chapter, Hard Work, Mamet writes about the incredible job done by everyday workers on a movie set. A tight group of craft and arts professionals, they bring a passion for perfection to everything they do. Although they’re usually well paid, they would work longer hours ars gratia artis in pursuit of their larger goal, which he views in direct opposition to their higher-up brethren on the set.

While the star is late coming out of the trailer, while the producer is screaming obscenities on the cell phone at this assistant regarding, most likely, a botched lunch reservation, the folks on the set are doing their utmost to make a perfect movie.

I do not believe I overstate the case.

Musicians, at least the ones I’m fortunate enough to work with, are much the same way. No matter what’s going on around them, an unprepared star singer wanting to rehearse the same song over and over again ad nauseum for hours, a producer who can’t explain what he wants, conductors who’d be better off on a train than a podium or some minion of the corporate mind who insists on keeping all the players in the studio for a full three hours after they’d captured the perfect take during the first hour, musicians put their heads down and get the job done. Period.

Sure, musicians as a group love to grouse. Grousing helps keep sanity in the workplace. But in the studio, on the set and on stage, musicians always bring it home. You see, they’re not only working for their employer, but they’re working for themselves and the other players around them, indeed they are working for art itself, proving over and over that they’re good enough to be in the rarefied air of the company they keep, constantly challenging each other to exceed the high quality of work demanded from them. It’s name is pride.

And for the most part, the work is anonymous.

I recall the homily of old, that thousands worked over years to build the cathedrals, and no one put his name on a single one of them.

September 14, 2007 | Link to this entry

Remembering Pavarotti

I was excited to be sitting so close to him, in the well of the orchestra in front of the conductor. He had scheduled two Neapolitan numbers, Chitarra Romana and Non Ti Scordar Di Me, both using an acoustic gut-string guitar to add to the appropriate pesante feel. Accordionist John Torcello sat next to me, both of our instruments unusual to see in a symphony orchestra. There was an air of excitement and tension throughout the more than sold-out crowd at the Hollywood Bowl.

When Pavarotti appeared, the crowd went wild. I’d never heard a sound like that from an audience before. It was what I had always imagined it sounded like on the night The Beatles performed there. Screaming, crying, whistling, cheering…and then, total silence as the singer launched into his first song. When it was over, he flashed an incredibly charismatic smile while holding his arms outstretched clutching a white handkerchief and the cheering was even louder. Song after song, the concert proceeded in exactly the same manner with both artist and audience feeding on the love and need for each other.

Pavarotti was indeed larger than life, an opera star who was both a serious artist and a caricature of all great opera divos at the same time. Even at rehearsals, wrapped in a huge Hermes or Versace scarf, gently prodding the conductor or orchestra to phrase in a certain way, or barking orders at the young sopranos who always accompanied him in recital, he seemed unapproachable yet would flash a smile in acknowledgement if you happened to catch his eye. Nothing said, just a warm smile of respect between the two.

During the last concert I played with him, years later in the fall of 2005, he was noticeably tired. No longer walking, he used a motorized scooter to get around. A large moveable screen covered the front of the stage, to allow him the ability to use the scooter unseen and settle in his chair, surrounded by mountains of flowers, before appearing before the still-adoring crowd. Just a little sleight of hand to prolong the magical aura he brought to everything he touched. The voice may have been ever so slightly diminished but the smile and the passion was still in the heart of the modest country boy from Modena.

Postscript: At the first rehearsal for Pavarotti’s debut at the Hollywood Bowl, either in the late eighties or early nineties, the orchestra was having a particularly hard time following the conductor’s erratic movements. Finally, Sidney Weiss, then-concertmaster for the LA Philharmonic, raised his hand and asked, “Maestro! Are you in two or four? We don’t understand what you’d like!” The conductor, in an agitated tone, replied, “I am in two. I am in four. I am in everything at once. This is opera!”

September 11, 2007 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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