The Daily Illini

Music and Performing Arts Library hosting self-playing piano reveal

By Therese Pokorney, Assistant Daytime News Editor

The Music and Performing Arts Library will host a free special Player Piano Reveal in the Music Building Auditorium on Sept. 22 from 1 to 3 p.m.

The reveal will feature a newly restored, 20th-century player piano, or self-playing piano, with a fully working player mechanism, which consists of a bar to hold a roll of paper with holes to automatically play the piano.

The event will begin with presentations about player pianos by Catherine Hennessy-Wolter, who received her PhD in Musicology from the University and wrote her dissertation on player pianos, and Mel Septon, restorer of automatic musical instruments.

“We have had the piano for many years in one of our library listening rooms, where people could use the piano itself but the player mechanism was broken,” Kristen Dougan, head of the Music and Performing Arts Library, said. “The piano has been with the restorers for most of the last two years and was just returned to us last month.”

Dougan said the Music and Performing Arts Library received money from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement in 2016. John Wilkin, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, also contributed funds to fix the piano and create a dedicated space in the library, she said.

A light reception will follow in the library and attendees can see the renovated piano perform. Artifacts from the MPAL collection will also be on display. After the reveal, the piano and piano roll collection will be available to researchers once the library assesses their condition.

“This represents an opportunity for musicians to experience and study a particular element of music technology and music transmission from the early 20th century,” Dougan said. “Some of the rolls in our collection are performances by the composer of the song or other famous musicians, including George Gershwin, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Jelly Roll Morton.”

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