Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Steinway is a Steinway

This morning I watched Sunday Morning on CBS and one of the stories was about the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnatti buying 166 new Steinway pianos. It was facinating to see two of the professors going into a room that must have held 30 grand pianos and sitting down to play at each one. A piano is a piano. A Steinway is a Steinway, right? Yes, but not all are created equally. Even Steinways. As each professor sat at a piano and started to play, you realized that they heard nuances from each instrument that I could not hear. After playing one of the pianos, one of the professors turned around with a huge smile on her face and said, "This is my piano." She could hear the subtleties that separated this piano from all the other pianos.

Brooks Jensen writes in one of his essays: This must be true for photography, too. Working with a given subject matter again and again teaches the eye to see the subtleties that aren't apparent at first sight. This ability to distinguish is not an act of will; it is a result of experience, careful examination, and a certain degree of concentration and involvement with the subject over time.

What this boils down to is that, some of the things that "make" a great photograph for a photographer, the subtleties of tones and nuances coaxed from materials, are hard to come by. It takes a lot of work to make just a few photographs that sing. So while I didn't hear what the professor heard from "her" piano, I understood her smile. Not all Steinways, or photographs, are equal.


glorv1 said...

Well said. Have a great week ahead.

Anonymous said...

having met many steinways, i can tell you that they all have a distinct personality. #2

Tommy Williams said...

I grew up with a Steinway grand piano at home. My father is a spectacular pianist and I, well, I was passable.

But I did develop an ear for the sound of pianos--they are definitely distinct. I remember that we had the hammers reshaped on our piano to make the tones a bit more brilliant.

The sound of that piano--and the feel of the keys, that's just as distinct as the sound, in fact--is the ideal to which I hold all pianos.

Babs said...

Ahh Billie, I LOVE CBS Sunday Morning. I don't think a Sunday goes by that I don't learn something. I sure wish there were more shows like that on TV. If there were, I might watch more.