Note By Note
We got a chance to see the film Note by Note last night. It’s a documentary which follows a concert grand piano through the Steinway factory. It’s a fascinating movie.
The movie talks to a wide range of musicians about pianos. They follow Pierre-Laurent Aimard through the process of selecting the piano he’ll use for a concert at Carnegie Hall, which is a really interesting process. They also talk to Harry Connick Jr. and Hank Jones about how they choose a a piano. And Hélène Grimaud plays the finished piano at the end of the movie. But Lang Lang is the one who really stands out. He’s so full of excitement. When he tells the story about first getting interested in piano after watching Tom & Jerry play the Hungarian Rhapsody he makes you remember what it is like to get excited about learning something new.
But the people who really make this film are the ones who actually make the pianos. Each of them has such a stock of specialized skills and they all work together to create something amazing. It got me wondering when was the last time I saw a movie which really celebrated Americans making things. It used to be an important part of our mythology, but it’s faded into something we don’t really talk about and don’t seem to take pride in.
A lot of the workers seem surprised to find themselves doing this. They talk about how they planned to take a job at Steinway for a couple of years before going off to do something different, and then they find themselves engrossed in it and spending decades there developing esoteric skills that haven’t changed in generations.
To learn more about the movie, see this website. To learn more about how the pianos are made (and what a bellyman does), check out the book that inspired the film, or this NYTimes article based on it.
Of course when we went to George Li’s recital last year at Clarke I couldn’t help thinking of Tom & Jerry when he played the Hungarian Rhapsody.