New Piano

This is only tangentially about the house, but I thought I'd show you our new piano. Noel went and picked it up in Reno on Thursday, arriving back home in the middle of the night. And last night we moved it, with the help of our neighbor Richard, into the house.

(Of course we did this well after dark. There were deck posts to install while we had light.)

Piano in the back of the truck, and the ramp to the side porch

The first deal was that the piano was in the back of the truck, which is high off the ground and lacks one of those awesome lifts on the back. Noel got this half of an auto ramp and we backed the truck up to the side porch. The railing on that porch is still in what we call "transitional" stages, so we just popped off the top rail and we had a place to bring the piano in.

Wheel monitor

Since I am not anywhere near capable of lifting anything like this piano (which weighs about 1000 lbs), my role was monitoring the wheels of the dolly we set it on to make sure they were lined up right on the ramp. Dropping a wheel over the edge would mean dropping the piano. Added incentive for me was that would also drop the piano on my camellia. Not that I want to destroy a very expensive piano, but I am also quite fond of that tree.

Lumping the piano into the house

It was a little tricky getting it through the side door into the dining room; the door was just barely wide enough. Fortunately that door is one of the easy-off types we have where you can lift them off their hinges without pulling a pin or unscrewing anything, so we took off the door for the proceedings. Still a tight fit.

Down the hall and into the front parlour

Then it was down the hall and into the front parlour. This was fairly easy because the piano has wheels and Noel thoughtfully oiled them before loading it up in Reno in the first place.

The piano had been partially disassembled for shipping, so once it was in place Noel got to work reassembling it.

Putting the keys back in

This is the first sign that there is something very different about this piano. Since we already own two pianos (Noel's grand and my miniature upright), a third could only come in this house on the condition that it offered something special to the mix.

This piano is a uniform keyboard piano designed by a guy named Paul von Jankó. Noel has a bunch of information on his uniform keyboard web page. We call this a Jankó piano.

Reinstalling the action

The whole thing went together quickly. There are a few broken or missing pieces that it might be nice to repair or replace, eventually. And the piano got a little damage in moving that it would be nice to repair.

Jankó piano ready to play

And, of course, the front parlour is a total mess now. With a giant upright piano in the middle of it.

Noel relearns how to play the piano

And then Noel stayed up half the night playing scales and learning the feel of the keyboard. It's one thing to understand the theory of how the keyboard works, but learning to play it requires practise.

posted by ayse on 09/01/12


Congrats, that's one complicated piano. What's the story & history?

Fascinating. I followed the Janko´link, but still can't get my head around how this keyboard works. Easier to figure out in person? I can see why you'd go to the trouble of bringing in a third piano, if it's as unusual and interesting as this.

The short history:

Jankó studied piano, but had small hands and therefore couldn't play some of the larger intervals in contemporary music (Rachmaninoff, Liszt, etc.). Being both a musician and engineer, he went to the drawing board and came up with this design. His design allows one to play larger intervals but also simplifies fingering.

This particular piano was manufactured by Decker Brothers in New York in the 1890's. It was shipped across the country to Notre Dame College in San Jose, California. Many students learned how to play the keyboard; concerts were given on it as late as 1923. The school moved to Belmont, California in 1923 and became Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), and the piano moved with it. However, it seems that the instrument was no longer a going concern; I suspect it sat, forgotten, in a practice room for some 50 years.

Kristine Naragon wrote her master's thesis about the Jankó keyboard. Through her research, she found out about the piano at NDNU and listed it as one of the few remaining examples of this keyboard. Paul Vandervoort, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, is the most enthusiastic supporter of this keyboard layout (he has built several keyboards with this layout, and has been playing professionally on the layout for years). He corresponded with Naragon and visited the keyboard in person. When the NDNU music department finally decided in 1987 they no longer wanted to keep the piano, Paul purchased it from them. He's looked after it for many a year, and finally decided to sell it to raise some money to get his MIDI controller keyboards (with Jankó layout, naturally) to market. I bought it from Paul.

I'm now re-learning to play with this new layout and having a blast. I'm also writing a paper which will expand on the history of instructors and students in the United States who were involved with the Jankó layout.

Note: We're getting pummeled with spam comments, so I've turned off the ability to use any HTML or include any links for the time being. Email with any issues.

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