NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1912 __ The industry of player pianos
Comment : « Selling player pianos to Americans in 1912 was not a difficult task. There was a place for everyone in this brave new world, where the player offered an answer to some of America's most persistent wants: the opportunity to participate in something which asked little understanding; the pleasure of creating without work, practice, or the taking of time; and the manifestation of talent where there was none. [...] One of regular columns was "Music Roll Thematics," reproducing the patterns of various groups of holes from familiar classic rolls, and tossing in ten good reasons why they were important, as well as a story of the composition. The idea was to read the groups of perforations while playing the roll, as the professional musician reads notes; and music presented in these new working clothes became something which was perhaps tangible after all. Player programs were suggested for less imaginative owners, who soon learned not to compromise themselves artistically in an evening's entertainment by mixing such popular works as Swift's Rag Medley No. 8 and Gottschalk's The Dying Poet with light opera classics from Van Alsteyne's Girlies or Karl Hoschna's Madame Sherry. The industry, probably largely out of respect, built 10,000 grands in 1914, but out of the 325,000 total, 80,000 were player pianos. Piano repairmen, who had started their vocation with nothing to fear from the regularities of the pianoforte, were encouraged with books, folders, and diagrams explaining the wonders of pneumatics. That year the Danquard Player Action School opened in New York, giving exhaustive courses in player mechanics, and there were even a few correspondence schools peddling the new profession. The roll industry had been a necessary accomplice throughout, but it had an attraction all its own. The notion of transforming any piece of music, from a ditty to a concerto, into an anonymous series of holes on a blank paper roll was as exciting for some as cuneiform investigation. More than 200,000 player pianos were built in 1916. They amounted to 65 per cent of the total piano production ». (William Gaddis, “Stop Player. Joke No. 4”, In The Atlantic Magazine, pp. 92-93, July 1951)
Urls : http://www.williamgaddis.org/nonfiction/stopplayer.shtml (last visited )

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