There are, unfortunately, people who have wonderful Player-Pianos but who never "master" the control of them

Bad Pianola performance

Player-Pianos (or Pianolas) traditionally have foot pedals to establish the vacuum, which produce the dynamics of the overall performance. The Tempo Lever is part of the accenting operation, accelerating for the next melodic note or chord, then ritarding the roll speed while "taking up the slack" with the other foot pedal. Done correctly, the music measures have the precise rhythm while notes and chords are "pulled out" for solo effects. Beyond this there are Soft Treble and Soft Bass controls, which let the roll interpreter refine the performance by suppressing half of the scale during the accenting activity.

Here, we have an excellent quality player-piano just "running a roll" as somebody pedals, monotonously. The roll is a sheet music transfer - not up to the standards of ARTCRAFT Interpretive Arrangements which feature graduated staccato and key depressions - but with a little dexterity this lackluster roll can be made to perform with a sense of panache and melodic excitement.

Sadly, the Strauss waltz performed here is funereal. The piano just plays the roll and there is no involvement by the person operating the pedals.

Performances like this are what reinforce the negative stereotype of the Player-Piano. The instrument was designed to be "interpretive". Those who just want music rattling away should purchase a high end stereo with exponential speakers and enjoy piano music in that fashion. Not only is it less expensive but the audio of piano recordings requires no tuning nor player maintenance.

-- L. Douglas Henderson
ARTCRAFT Music Rolls
December 11, 2011