Player Piano

Sunday, 9th October 2005

This pianola has been in the family since around 1930 and it may have been secondhand then. Unfortunately the piano roll playing mechanism is long gone. The bellows (did they blow air through the punched holes in the piano roll?) had moths in them and the bulky mechanics made the piano difficult to tune. The mechanism ended up in the garage cupboard while the piano rolls were stacked in old cardboard cartons in a lean-to shed.

The pianola still has the pedals that worked the mechanism and there's a sliding door with a glass panel above the keyboard so that you could follow the words on the roll and sing along with the music. I have distant memories of the whole thing working.

On the inside of the lid, inset in brass letters are the words: HUPFELD SOLOPHONOLA RÖNISCH.

Carl Rönisch of Dresden, began making pianos in 1845. From 1918 Ludwig Hupfeld, from Leipzig shared his factory.

Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano is 'an unforgiving portrait of an automated and totalitarian future'. Vonnegut, while a prisoner of war, witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden.

A sense of touch

The piano has a mellow tone, the bass strings are set diagonally to fit a longer string into the space available. I loved the sound of it and, when I was 7 or 8, I started taking lessons with Mrs Woodcock, the music teacher at the local secondary modern school. Even in those days my hands were shakey and, a bag of nerves at my first exam (in a church hall in Castleford?), I barely passed. The examiner wrote on my certificate:

'The candidate has a poor sense of touch and a sense of touch is the basis of good piano playing'

That, thankfully (for my family, if not for me), was the end of my musical career :-( Next Page


Piano information (683 pages of it! How did we manage before the internet?) at

Richard Bell,

Not sure what happened with this drawing of my niece Sarah. She was talking and moving, so that's probably why the proportions went so awry.