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Irving Berlin

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Spud McLaren
722532.  Wed Jun 23, 2010 2:42 pm Reply with quote

Berlin (born Israel Baline) was a self-taught pianist. He never learned to play in more than one key (probably C major; I'll try to find out) and used a custom-made piano by Weser, New York, 1940 with a transposing lever to change key.

Edit:seems it wasn't C major....he didn't make things easy for himself....

And there's this...

Spud McLaren
722906.  Thu Jun 24, 2010 5:37 pm Reply with quote

The Straight Dope:

"Having limited skills as a pianist, he couldn't easily change keys. Not to worry. Around 1910, as his career was starting to take off, he bought an upright "transposing piano" for $100. To one side of the keyboard was a small wheel. Turning the wheel shifted the keyboard right or left relative to the strings, positioning the hammers over higher or lower notes than they would ordinarily strike. Thus while still playing on the (mostly) black keys of F-sharp major, Berlin could hear the music in a variety of other keys. Transposing pianos were common back then; almost every music publishing house on Tin Pan Alley had one. Berlin called his instrument his "trick piano" and sometimes his "Buick," presumably because of the transposing wheel's resemblance to a steering wheel (he later got another model that used a lever instead). He took it with him almost everywhere, including on vacation cruises with his family."

"Having donated his transposing piano (the later version, with the lever) to the Smithsonian in 1973, he died in 1989 at age 101"

I had no idea that transposing pianos were so common that you could buy one "off the shelf".


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