I entered the limo from a residence on Beverly Road, not Baker Street, leaving behind not Doctor Watson, but rather, my wonderful partner, Dr. Smith. Little did I know that I was about to embark upon a mysterious journey fraught with peril and intrigue…
I had been engaged by The Music School of Delaware to accompany a group to the Steinway & Sons factory located deep in the heart of the Borough of Queens in New York in order to choose a new Model D. A donor had stepped forward to fund the purchase of this nine foot concert grand thereby ensuring generations of quality recitals and concerts at the school. I instructed the driver to proceed to Wilmington where I would meet the assembled selection group.
Selecting a Model D is indeed a “grand” occasion and often the selection group includes not only the pianist, but associated faculty, administration, and VIP guests. This occasion was no different.
The assembled selection team was international as well– with members from Russia, China, and Japan. The leader of the group, a violinist named Kate, was the executive director of the school. The other members had been selected for their respective prowess as pianists and musicians. As we headed north on the New Jersey Turnpike we engaged in animated conversation on many things musical and many things Steinway. As we neared Astoria, passing the Brooklyn Bridge on the slow moving and congested BQE (Brooklyn – Queens Expressway), I quietly asked Kate who would be the key selector from the group of the three assembled pianists.
Past experience had taught me that it is critical to identify the primary selector when dealing with a group of pianists– to fail to do so is at the peril of the selection process. This particular group was of great concern, because the personalities and styles of pianists from different countries can be remarkably varied. I had been present in far too many situations where these colliding opinions resulted in a protracted selection process.
Kate responded with little concern to my question…“Oh, I expect them to come to a consensus.” Seeing my look of incredulity, she quickly added, “But, if they don’t, I will select for them” and smiled.
We arrived at the factory –situated on a remarkable tract of land cleared and dedicated to the construction of Steinway & Sons pianos in the 1870s. Hoping to build an appreciation for the pending selection, I guided my group through the factory. The unique hand craftsmanship that goes into each Steinway & Sons piano was clearly evident. Clues as to the reasons for each piano’s incredible touch, tone, and stability were apparent on each and every floor of this amazing factory.
As the time came to select a piano, the element of concern once again began to seep into my consciousness. Each of the three pianists began to express what they hoped to find in the concert grand, and each opinion reflected the differences in approach to the instrument based upon their country of origin: Russian, Japanese, and Chinese. Their national identities and the legacy of legendary pianists of past generations were influencing their desires….
They played, they talked, and they debated the merits of the five assembled and prepared model Ds for over an hour and failed to agree on one instrument that would suit them. I knew it was time for action. I requested that everyone except the three selectors leave the room. I explained that this would allow them the opportunity to speak freely with each other and perhaps reach a “consensus”.
For fifteen minutes we stood in the back lumber yards of the factory discussing the process, and our individual favorite instruments from amongst the five candidates. Kate informed me that she was ready to dictate a decision should the trio still be in stalemate.
We returned to the selection room to find our trio of pianists had vanished! What, Where, Why?
In confusion and with concern, we went out the side door towards the shipping area of the factory. In the distance, I spied the trio. Oh no! They had slipped into the factory and had uncovered a Model D that had not yet been prepped for the selection room: in fact, the serial number had not yet been affixed to the cast iron plate.
“This is the one!” They exclaimed in unison. “What?” Was my reply. “Yes, Yes, this one, is it available?”
I was stunned! Never had anything like this happened during a selection. I turned to Dirk Dickten, the incredibly talented technician who manages the selection room. “Dirk,” I asked, “can they choose this one?” Clearly flustered, Dirk replied that it was available, but we must discreet as he had yet to even prepare this D, and it might impact his job security were it to be discovered that the pianos perhaps leave the factory floor in such fine condition so as not to require a technical prep for selection!
So we can select this instrument… but how do we mark down a serial number for the invoice and paperwork?
Do we apply a secret mark? Perhaps invisible ink? The answer was elementary. The case and multiple parts of a Steinway bear the serial number of the piano. They sometimes separate from each other as the travel the thirteen month journey from beginning to completion and as they are all custom fit to the piano they must be identified so as to be matched together in final assembly and inspection.
We located a serial number and entered it on the selection form. Dirk assured us that he would add the number on the plate in the customary position so that it would be easily identified when it arrived in its new home in Delaware.
It was indeed a most unusual and unique selection but like the many I had prior the many since it was a selection that ended in smiles, celebration, and elation for the selection group.