Perforating Rolls on the Maine Coast

A photographic gallery, showing the creation of a new 1999 ARTCRAFT Music Roll:
AMERICAN BOLERO (1935) by Nacio Herb Brown

An 88-Note 'Themodist' Music Roll for the Player-Piano

A scenic Summer camping-vacation was combined with some serious perforating during the last 2 weeks of August, when L. Douglas Henderson set up one of his antique Leabarjan perforators on the cliffs of Searsport Shores Resort — a scenic cliffside camping site on the Maine Coast, one of the most idyllic spots on Penobscot Bay. There — amidst the crashing waves, evening fog, rustling leaves and maritime activity — the 88-Note Themodist Master Roll of AMERICAN BOLERO was arranged, an 80-foot-long music roll extravaganza which, like the well-known Ravel work some 7 years earlier, carries the listener from the softest pianissimo to a thundering finale which exploits all the technical attributes of the pneumatic Pianola.

Credit for the 'rediscovery' of this rare and complex composition goes to Robin Pratt, the Ohio piano rebuilder and musician who has found many titles for the ARTCRAFT catalogue of virtuoso Interpretive Arrangements ... rolls which can transfix concert audiences and gain applause in every household with a Player-Piano. The composer, Nacio Herb Brown, is best known for THE DOLL DANCE, PAGAN LOVE SONG and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN ... along with a galaxy of popular melodies often featured in motion pictures of the Golden Age of Hollywood. AMERICAN BOLERO — as the preface to the score states — was his attempt to augment his scope to the classical music sphere ... as George Gershwin and Ferde Grofé had done a few years earlier. While advertised as a "fusion of American themes" the stunning work is really Spanish in character and interlaced with the 'moderne' (or Art Deco) syncopated transitions of the period. Composer Brown drew upon his gift of creating engaging melodies, and so AMERICAN BOLERO is a unique piece in 5/4 rhythm which the listener can savour and hum, right from the first performance. (Many people who have heard this roll have exclaimed that it surpasses the now-overworked Ravel composition in the "Bolero" form ... but we leave that judgment up to those who experience this spectacular ARTCRAFT Music Roll!)

Nacio Herb Brown came from a Spanish background, hailing from Deming, New Mexico, dedicating AMERICAN BOLERO to his musically-inclined mother, Cora. He was largely self-taught as a pianist, which probably accounts for his unusual, often unforgettable rhythms and musical textures.

The 1911 Model #5 Leabarjan perforator was set up in the hexagonal 'gazebo' shown below, only inches from the cliff's edge. Lois Konvalinka and Mr. Henderson resided in the folding 'Aliner' trailer next to the open-air "portable Studio" ... and the legendary GRADUATED STRIKING for the "bolero" staccato rhythm was cut without the aid of a piano. This spectacular music roll featured all the striking effects in the mind of the arranger, using the 'floating' measures possible with the advanced mastery of the single punch-and-die design of the antique machinery. Interpretive Arrangements are free from the "droning" sound of conventional rolls, since the staccato effects are calculated during the initial perforating work. No graph paper techniques or MIDI [electronic graph paper, when you stop to think about it] formula standards were imposed upon this infectious Latin-style instrumental extravaganza. Work often continued at night, thanks to a light installed next to the old cast iron perforator.

ARTCRAFT moves to the seashore Camping on Penobscot Bay, Maine

Yes, the 6-cylinder '96 Volkswagen GTI towed the camping trailer, along with the 'gazebo' and the perforating supplies! The 'Aliner' opens in about a minute, or less. As the walls are hinged and solid (no canvas), the effect is not unlike a seaside châlet — complete with all the comforts of home!

Leabarjan Model #5 perforator Ready for roll arranging by the Sea Closeup of the antique perforator

Here are several views of the Maine vista and the setup of the antique music roll perforator. The entire process is phsycial and mental, low-tech in the fullest sense of the word! However, striking refinements — through precise cutting (down to a ¼ perforation overlap) — are what give the "human effect" to the pneumatic performance. Here, Mr. Henderson drew up his almost 49 years of music roll arranging expertise to create a long-playing Master Roll which does full justice to the composer's intentions while at the same time making effective use of the Pianola's unique performance abilities.

Douglas Henderson at the perforator Ditto

All of these stills were made from our Sony floppy disk recorder, the "Mavicap" — which 'captures' (freeze frames) videotape, in this case the Hi8 format. Lois Konvalinka - co-founder of The Musical Wonder House - took the pictures of Mr. Henderson at work, when she wasn't rugmaking in the 'Aliner'.

It takes two hands to operate a Leabarjan!

AMERICAN BOLERO was heard at the beginning of September, when the 7' Steinway player grand piano in the ARTCRAFT Studio first performed the new Master Roll. Pedal shadings along with EXTRA NOTES AND MUSICAL PASSAGES FOR THE PIANOLA'S ENTIRE 88-NOTE RANGE were then perforated in Wiscasset, making use of the "instant replay" nature of the instruments on hand. However, 'tweaking' aside through live performance, this long-playing perforated roll mostly came from the mind of Mr. Henderson — right down to the most subtle repetition effect. AMERICAN BOLERO is clearly a tour de force for the Player-Piano, be it a Duo-Art instrument or a responsive and sensitive pedal player upright. The "keyboard attack" of the note-score makes it a spectacular roll on ANY pneumatic player action!

Read about the making of this unique roll on the 'MMD Archives' - The Player-Piano newsletter on the Web!

ARTCRAFT Music Rolls remained "on-line" during the perforating-vacation described above! A cellular 'phone connected to one of several laptop computers, permitting the daily correspondence to continue. A total of 3 texts were sent to the MMD by this method. You can access the "story in progress" (describing the myriad musical descisions which had to be made) at this address:

From there (the MMD Home Page), select ARCHIVES ... then AUTHOR INDEX ... then "H" (and scroll down to Douglas Henderson).
This will give you a list of articles by the arranger. Click on the following three titles for the entire story of AMERICAN BOLERO!

Article #1: Perforating Rolls on a Maine Cliff
Article #2:
Seacoast Music Roll completed!
Article #3: Studio Premiere of AMERICAN BOLERO in 5/4 Meter

(Note: These articles were transmitted by radiotelephone from Searsport, Maine USA in August and early Sept. - not submitted on the later dates listed!)

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ARTCRAFT Music Rolls — P.O. Box 295, Wiscasset, ME 04578 USA — Telephone: (207) 882-7420