The novel describes the story of a young girl in Manchester. Her father works there as a pianoplayer in the cinema Star. When in 1929 the sound film turned up, he tries to make money in a piano marathon over thirty days. She describes the piano and his way of playing as follows:
The piano that my father had to play on at the Star was a broken down old thing that never got tuned, but my dad never complained. He showed me on Saturday afternoon once just before the matinee, with the kids screaming at the door wanting to be let in, just how a man of resource, as he called himself, could do big things even with a lousy piano.
"All those notes down there in the bass is just a lot of noise, but that's very useful for drums and thunder and so on. And that D there is gone, but it's fine for someone tapping at the window. And that E flat up there near the top has dropped down so it's the same as D flat, and that means I can do a trill on one note very fast. Faster than what Paderooski could do on a proper piano." My father had stripped all the wooden panels off the piano, so that he could bang the wires with a coalhammer that he'd pinched to make the effect of bells and zithers. As he said himself, he was more than a pianoplayer when it came to films, he was an effects man too.
He took pride in having all sorts of little odds and ends he'd picked up or nicked to give what he called greater reality. He had a little clockwork bell for when somebody rang at the door on the screen. If a shepherd played a flute to his sheep in the meadows then he'd come in with a tin whistle. For rain he used to rattle dried peas in a biscuit tin. He once got himself a sheet of aluminium to shake for thunder, but he'd pinched it off a man who was trying to build his own racing car out in the street and there was a row about that. When there was a gramophone playing on the screen he had a real old portable with a record of Pretty Redwing. Somebody pinched this, though he'd pinched it himself.
They were a pretty mean lot of customers at the Star, and they never appreciated what my poor dad did for their entertainment and enlightenment. Most of the music he played he made up as he went along. As he used to say, the buggers were getting Original Compositions for their lousy threepence.
from: Anthony Burgess, The Pianoplayers, Arrow Books, London 1986
Further information about the work of Anthony Burgess .
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