Monday, November 5, 2007

Note by Note

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Examines Craft Involved in Making a Steinway Piano

While most piano manufacturers have either gone out of business or made concessions to modern times by now mass producing their instruments on hi-tech assembly lines, Steinway stands as out as a company which has refused to compromise in terms of quality and remains dedicated to doing things the old-fashioned way. Each of its pianos contains 12,000 handcrafted parts and relies on the involvement of about 450 different employees at various stages of the year-long process.
A dying breed, this collection of cabinet makers, tone regulators, rough tuners and other assorted skilled laborers takes a great deal of pride in the task at hand. Furthermore, they know that each of their 88-keyed creations is imbued with its own recognize sound, almost akin to the musical equivalent of a unique personality.
In Note by Note, we get to follow these extraordinarily sensitive artisans as they toil away on L1037, a Steinway concert grand. Directed by Ben Niles, the movie takes you from the picking of its wood on the floor of the forest through its innumerable stages of construction around the factory in Queens to the Manhattan showroom to the purchased product’s finally finding a home in a concert hall.
What is perhaps most remarkable to observe is that what we have represented here is a veritable United Nations of ethnicities with each deeply dedicated to completing the same project successfully. And over the course of the picture it becomes clear that in order for them to measure up to the standard of excellence long-associated with the Steinway name it calls for a commitment to a level of communication and cooperation which has long since vanished from most trades.
This moving documentary features testimonials by classical and jazz greats like Lang Lang, Kenny Baron, Hank Jones and Harry Connick, Jr. all of whom credit the Steinway team for enabling them to maximize their potential as performers. A cinematic first, a standing ovation by icons for the unsung, working-class heroes who make them look good.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 80 minutes
Studio: Plow Productions/Film Forum

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