Let it Roll

I hate shopping at Menards. I’m supposed to “save big money” but I usually end up having a headache.

For those of you who don’t have the pleasure of living in the MidWest, and therefore being subjected to the endless Menards commercials…. well, the commercials are so annoying they aren’t even on YouTube.  Menards is our answer to Home Despot, and one of the stores opened up not far from our house a couple of years ago.  I should have bought stock in the company then (we own a 1911 house….. enough said).

But even more annoying than the commercials is the digital piano thing that occupies floor space near the escalators.  It is one of those soulless monstrosities that churns out the most gut-wrenching swill you’ve ever heard, all for the “entertainment” of the shoppers.  On more than one occasion one of the workers has expressed interest in hiring me to go over there with a chain saw.

The Player Piano has had a long and wonderful history in this country and in my own life.  I grew up in the great city of Buffalo, N.Y., home of some of the most wonderful people in the world and the QRS Music Technologies company.  They, of course, made piano rolls, and to my dismay I have to use the past tense in this sentence because they just shut down that production line.  This really shouldn’t be a surprise in the digital age but it is a little sad.  Some 20 years ago my friend (and Über-genius) Bryan Pezzone was one of the first artists to get a Disklavier.  That was the first nail in the coffin.  But through the years my parents and I collected old QRS rolls.  I bet there are still some kicking around my parents basement.

Think about all the wonderful recordings we wouldn’t have if not for the piano roll.  There is a tremendous series of CDs called Gershwin on Gershwin: The Piano Rolls that remain some of my favorite.  The original rolls were digitally remastered, and it’s a wonderful set.  Gershwin plays many of his famous songs but the highlights for me are his double piano roll versions of Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris. He would record one roll and then record the other while listening to the previously recorded roll being played back.  Quite a feat of co-ordination.  The set is also very instructional – no, I’m sorry all you trumpet players out there, the famous solo in American in Paris is played STRAIGHT!!!  If you don’t believe me maybe, just maybe, you’ll believe George Gershwin.

But hey, people, although I’m sorry to see the piano roll go the way of the Dodo I’m not about to stand in the way of progress.  Yesterday the beautiful people of UPS delivered my Music Player Adapter for my Shure headphones to me.  I can now use my super high-end in-ear headphones with my iPhone.  That’s progress ……. but it’s not quite as elegant in an old-school way.  And there ain’t no school like the old school.

Thanks QRS.  I’m going to go listen to some Gershwin now.

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