Information for Player and 'Reproducing' Piano enthusiasts
The ARTCRAFT Studio in Maine

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"THE PIANOLA NEWS" — Saturday: January 17, 1998 - Vol. I, No. 2
[Updated Weekly]

Will the real William Bolcom please stand up?

Long before ARTCRAFT Music Rolls began, Arranger Douglas Henderson received many requests for perforating William Bolcom's (then-new) composition GRACEFUL GHOST RAG — from his 'Ghost Rag Trilogy' of piano solos. At that time Mr. Henderson was wrapping-up his near ¼-Century of work at The Musical Wonder House (a music museum he co-founded with the Konvalinkas in 1962) ... and cutting rolls for the celebrated 'Candlelight Concerts', which took place in Summer evenings with seated audiences. Many a concert-goer often asked, "How about making a Duo-Art roll of GRACEFUL GHOST RAG?" ... with Bolcom's SEABISCUITS RAG a close second in the suggestion department.

When the ARTCRAFT label began in the early 'Eighties, GRACEFUL GHOST RAG was at the top of the stack for projects-to-be-done, due to the amount of prior requests. [If you are a newcomer to the subject of "rolls by Henderson" it should be stated that ARTCRAFT was the third — and successful — entry into the field by the long-time arranger. Already some rolls from the early 'Sixties under the Old Salzburg label have turned up in mail auctions ... and others from the 'Fifties surface from time to time.] A newly-acquired Leabarjan™ 16-roll 'Industrial' perforator had just been installed in the Cassette duplicating room. For a short time, until demand for ARTCRAFT Rolls increased to levels far beyond its sixteen roll capacity, the Model #8-B Leabarjan machine duplicated copies at the museum entirely through hand-perforating activities involving thousands of individual punches! Some of these 100% hand-cut Interpretive Arrangements by ARTCRAFT are seen on the "used roll" market today — especially WEDDING of THE WINDS Waltz and GLOW-WORM for 88-Note Pianolas and Gershwin's THREE PRÉLUDES for the Duo-Art expression player.

The Interpretive Arrangement of GRACEFUL GHOST RAG was one of the first ARTCRAFT titles released through the auspices of the museum partnership. (The Studio opened as a separate enterprise in 1986.) This roll was for the Duo-Art 'reproducing' player and was perforated after studying a Nonesuch LP album by David Jacobs, who recorded the entire Bolcom 'Ghost Rag Trilogy'. When ARTCRAFT released the roll it received mixed reviews: either people loved the Duo-Art expression roll ... or they hated it! (What was the matter here?) Since composer Bolcom had dedicated some of his imaginative music to pianist Jacobs, Mr. Henderson was under the impression that this audio record was the 'authoritative source' for a perforating project.

GRACEFUL GHOST RAG for Duo-Art remained in the ARTCRAFT Catalogues through 1987 ... and then was withdrawn voluntarily by Mr. Henderson. Every time someone didn't like the arrangement, he or she was asked "Why?" — but the answers were always vague and along the lines of "I don't know, but it just doesn't sound like William Bolcom." At the same time a letter from Germany or France might arrive, saying that the ARTCRAFT Interpretive Arrangement was one of the most-treasured rolls in the collection. Clearly, a MYSTERY existed here!

The 'Eighties were also the decade in which composer-pianist William Bolcom (and his wife, singer Joan Morris) frequented Maine concert halls. Mr. Henderson had the good fortune of hearing them perform several times at Bowdoin College. During one of their memorable appearances, he sat in between 2 music roll collectors: Lois Konvalinka (of The Musical Wonder House) and John Powers (then running ATLANTIC Music Rolls). After a sparkling program of songs and instrumental music, packed with the charisma that is a specialty with this musical team, Mr. Bolcom announced, "For an encore, I am going to play GRACEFUL GHOST RAG, a piece dedicated to my late father." And, the music began....

Wham! Mr. Henderson received elbows in the ribs from two sides! "That's YOUR roll he's playing!" said the pair, stereophonically, into the Arranger's ears. "That sounds just like the roll you discontinued recently!"

Shortly after the concert, a copy of Bolcom's Cassette entitled "Heliotrope Bouquet" was purchased, and the Ghost Enigma was solved. The composer had recorded GRACEFUL GHOST RAG in 'swing' time, something between the "tied-triplet" beat (i.e., the "FAKE-jazz" on old rolls) and a true dotted-8th/16th rhythm. By contrast, pianist Jacobs and the sheet music — and now THE COMPOSER IN CONCERT! — all used the "duple-metre" approach for the performance, something akin to Scott Joplin!

ARTCRAFT had stopped producing a roll because of the "rhythm" and "striking effects", two elements which made the Jacobs LP seem so different from the Bolcom Cassette. Plans were made to make a second edition of GRACEFUL GHOST RAG for the Duo-Art, completing the trilogy this time ... but the Studio opened and other projects came along. It has been suggested recently that ARTCRAFT release a long-playing roll with 2 versions of the piece: the one based on the LP and the sheet music, followed by a brand-new Interpretive Arrangement modeled after the composer's Cassette interpretation. Who knows? This might be done in the near future.

Side-by-side demonstration rolls are nothing new in the ARTCRAFT enterprise. When giving a lecture/demonstration at an Ohio player club convention in 1990 — "Where's George? From Audio to GIGO" (viz., 'garbage in/garbage' out in computerese) — a limited edition Duo-Art roll which paired the same Gershwin song was released, now a genuine collectors' item. This featured a FAKE-Gershwin roll (made by Robert Armbruster) vs. a Duo-Art simulation of the Disklavier playing the roll transcription, then being hyped in the media as "better than the old player-piano". After hearing a slushy ballad with too much sustaining pedal and practically no expression beyond Mezzo-Piano, the 'GIGO' transcription began, featuring wrong notes, erratic rhythm and Fortissimo chords! The 'GIGO' rolls were snapped up by fellow collectors and are probably being used for party rolls today ... while the tandem Gershwin release by ARTCRAFT (of the same selection as an original Interpretive Arrangement) is a consistent seller in the catalogues, proving that "comparative performance" is the way to go in music rolls!

William Bolcom has had an interest in music rolls for many years, and there were opportunities to talk with him at each of the Bowdoin College concerts. One collector brought along a QRS 'Celebrity Series' roll for him to sign (arranged by Brian Williams from the erratic marking of the 'recording' piano in Buffalo, NY) ... and sold as a "played by Bolcom" performance. The marked strips were made during the Bolcoms' 1975 appearance at a player club convention. "Oh," said the composer-pianist, "you mean that people play with all those little buttons and levers?"

From his conversation it was easy to see that he was unaware his rolls were actually in production. The released QRS rolls were, of course, made by someone else who imposed his own striking and tempi and pedal effects into the Masters. (A little study and one can discern a Brian Williams arrangement from a contemporary Rudy Martin one. "Editing" is the code word used in the player industry for making rolls from the material created during a keyboard performance.) Considering his statement about "playing with buttons and levers" it's probable that Bolcom — like ARTCRAFT — keeps the spheres of live performance and the related audio recordings entirely separate from arranged music which is the domain of perforated rolls.

Now that the "phantom" concerning GRACEFUL GHOST RAG has been identified, it's likely that 'The Ghost Rag Trilogy' will appear from The ARTCRAFT Studio, featuring the "swing" version of the piece (and possibly paired with the Jacobs'-based arrangement) ... since it's clear that THERE IS NO ONE WAY to perform the music, especially if the Composer has at least two interpretations!

"Soft Pedaling" The Pedal
(The Sustaining Pedal)

While human pianists have enough 'trouble' with the Sustaining Pedal — miscalled the "loud pedal" by many people, and a few brands of old Player-Piano actions — the Pianola equivalent, which has a simple-looking appearance, has a set of variables which tax both roll arranger and music roll interpreter.

Human pianists use the pedal for two reasons: as part of the 'keyboard attack' [the "touch"] and also to compensate for technical reasons, for the human fingers — numbering 10 — can't be everywhere on the keyboard at any particular time. The 'striking' use of the pedal is instinctive and rapid, a mere tap which often nudges only a few damper felts ... since the typical pianoforte doesn't lift them equally in most cases. The sustaining pedal is part of the pianist's individual keyboard attack, even if only a 'blip' on the time scale. The technical use of the pedal is masked, for the virtuoso pianist ONLY, by the fact that human fingers have far more flexibility than the pneumatics, so the pulsating flow of dynamics (one for each note) tends to disguise the sustaining pedal when used artistically. (Note: when imitating a horrible keyboard pianist for a "comedy" roll, Mr. Henderson studied live performance tapes of an offensive performer in order to simulate the effect on a music roll. It turned out that the ARTCRAFT version had to have about 75% less sustaining pedal than the third-rate pianist uses in real-life, since the pneumatics play in 'clusters' no matter how sensitive the player action or refined the roll. Thus, the released ARTCRAFT Music Roll sounds like the human model ... but accomplishes this with only a fraction of the sustaining pedal — another example of how music rolls and keyboard performance differ at every turn!)

The basic design of an automatic Sustaining Pedal is straightforward: a pneumatic is attached to the pianist's foot pedal mechanism, which is controlled by a valve that is, in turn, operated by the perforated roll. Whenever a hole appears in the moving paper roll, the pneumatic closes and lifts the dampers. That's the theory, anyway.

The size of the tracker bar hole (which can be a "slot" of several 32nd-note equivalents for the Ampico!) differs from one instrument to the other. The placement of the hole is not always in the same location, causing some rolls to half-track ... and thus ... 'slow down' the pedal's operation. The valve assembly which controls the system can rob the pneumatic stack of needed power, on a temporary basis. Valve blocks have different combinations of moving diaphragms — fluctuating even more when staccato playing at soft levels is required.

When the Pianola's automatic pedal operates, it's totally unlike the human pianist, who — as explained above — "taps" the foot pedal as part of the keyboard stroke. Instead, the Player-Piano lifts the felt dampers at SLOWER SPEEDS than the virtuoso artist ... and, worse still, takes them the FULL TRAVEL which rarely occurs in sprightly and accomplished keyboard playing.

It was the custom in the early days of the player roll industry to copy the notation instructions for the pedal, and this created awful rolls which had the pneumatic running for the time "as written down" ... a blurred and messy sound if the sheet music were followed to the letter. (No doubt the "PEDAL OFF" lever was developed because of these ghastly rolls, many of which were cut by the Aeolian Co. under a variety of trade names!) Rolls made from 'hand-playing' usually had twice the pedal effects, since the speed and travel of the pneumatic version operated differently.

ARTCRAFT Rolls have circumvented most of these variables by developing what is called a "live" pedal. The taps are cut into the Interpretive Arrangements using minuscule overlaps down to a ¼ perforation. The pneumatic pedal is used for generalized tonality only, to avoid the 'dry' sound which music roll sostenuto possesses when chords are overlapped without lifting the damper bar. (Rythmodik Rolls are a good example of this 'dry' sustained sound.) When the score for the pedal perforations is created, the completed Master Roll is played on the piano while being marked ... and the Arranger's foot goes slower-than-human and also full travel in the process. In other words, the roll is played by a human who has trained himself to operate the pedal, instinctively, as the Pianola action does! The result is an amazingly lifelike sustaining pedal score, and one which is well-suited to all designs of instruments. Many Interpretive Arrangements take into account the "falling" of the damper felts, so the pedal is "there" — but doesn't exist as a perforation on the music roll.

If all the above sounds complicated, it is ... unless one wishes to create formula arrangements for background music (as many of the factories did).

The next time you hear a talented pianist perform "live", notice the use of the pedal in relation to the music you are hearing. Then, compare it to a commercial roll — any brand will do. Finally, try an ARTCRAFT arrangement with "live" pedal, and you'll note that even with "PEDAL OFF" flipped ... the sound is amazingly as if a pianist were there, in spite of the fact that the automatic mechanism has been disengaged.. Rethinking the facets of the Pianola's performance is the key to making better rolls. The Arranger must work around the pianist's methods in order to achieve similar effects, in this case "pedal shading".

Back issues of "The PIANOLA News"
Vol. I, No. 1 (1-10-98)
Vol I, No. 3 (1-25-98)
Vol. I, No. 4 (2-1-98)
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- L. Douglas Henderson, dba ARTCRAFT Music Rolls, P.O. Box 295, Wiscasset, Maine 04578 (USA)
(207) 882-7420 - E-Mail:

A second ARTCRAFT Website? Not really, but a "toe in the water" featuring some basic information has been on the Internet for close to a year. There's a short bio on the business which might be of interest to 'hard-core' ARTCRAFT fans. Check out this URL: (Make sure that "www" isn't in this URL!)

LINKS to other Internet Websites