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#1615075 - 02/08/11 12:00 AM The Changi Prison piano
Chris Leslie Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/11
Posts: 908
Loc: Canberra, ACT, Australia
I have been lurking on this forum for a while. I tune and repair part-time in Canberra, Australia. This is my first post prompted by a particularly interesting piano tuning job.

The Australian War Memorial in Canberra has recently acquired the original piano used by the prisoners at Changi Prison, Singapore, during WW2. Changi was infamous for the poor treatment by the Japanese of captured Aussie diggers. The Aussies regularly sneaked across the barbed wire fence to scrounge for things. One day they came back with piano from the old British Officers building. Fortunately the Japanese allowed the piano to stay, and even attended some of the prisoners concerts. At some time after the war was over the piano was brought back to Australia, used for a 1981 reunion concert, and for the last 30 years has been sitting in a garage at a home in Newcastle. The War Memorial want this piano to be both preserved in it's original condition as much as possible, but also be playable. The last surviving soldier, who was also the pianist, will come down from Sydney to play on it for a special occasion. This will bring back many memories for him.

It is a Robinson piano, and I am 95% sure it must be from the Thailand based Robinson piano company, established in 1927, who still produce Robinson pianos. It's condition is terrible as you would expect. Many prisoner's names are sadly written inside the top lid. Surprisingly, all the notes play despite lots of deterioration. The War Memorial allowed me to replace seven of the worst dampers and a few balance rail felts but no more. I gave the first quick tuning this morning and as expected many tuning pins will not hold well. My non-invasive, War Memorial-friendly way to deal with loose pins is to mute out the worst offenders. The borderline cases will be re-assessed when I visit the piano again later this week. Lots of rust on the strings and bridge pins, but no broken strings so far fortunately. I hope to leave enough working strings that will stay in tune long enough for the special occasion. No matter what I do it will always sound poor, but nobody expects a perfect piano in this instance.

I will re-post about the outcome. Regards, Chris
_________________________
Chris Leslie
Piano technician
http://www.chrisleslie.com.au

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#1615167 - 02/08/11 05:52 AM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: Chris Leslie]
Bojan Babic Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/15/09
Posts: 328
Loc: Vojvodina, Serbia
I am sure it is a very sentimental job for you, knowing the history of that piano. I would like to have a chance to do something like that one day. I wish you all the best with it.
_________________________
Bojan Babic
piano technician and tuner
Sid, Vojvodina, Serbia
_____________________________
bojanbabic@yahoo.com
www.klaviri.blogspot.com

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#1615376 - 02/08/11 01:46 PM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: Chris Leslie]
UnrightTooner Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/13/08
Posts: 5246
Loc: Bradford County, PA
Chris:

Welcome aboard!

Yours should take a special award for the best first post ever.

Muting out the offending strings is very wise. If you can find out the performer's repertoire, which may be very limited now, you may be able to concentrate on just the notes that will be played. Swapping parts around could be a good option. There is a time and a place for every repair.
_________________________
Jeff Deutschle
Part-Time Tuner
Who taught the first chicken how to peck?

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#1615438 - 02/08/11 04:11 PM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: Chris Leslie]
Grandpianoman Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/12/05
Posts: 2452
Loc: Portland, Oregon
What a wonderful thing to do! Music reaches down into our souls...it must have been so great for those prisoners to have music when they were surrounded by so much pain and misery.

All the best for the concert! smile

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#1615453 - 02/08/11 04:44 PM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: Chris Leslie]
Supply Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 3919
Loc: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Welcome Chris!
Originally Posted By: Chris Leslie
... The War Memorial want this piano to be both preserved in it's original condition as much as possible, but also be playable. ...

Here lies the predicament! You can't have your cake and eat it too. This piano was probably in marginal condition when it first appeared in the camp many decades ago, and has been subjected to the ravages of tropical climate all its life. You can't really conserve its originality and have it playable.

This is the same issue that has come up in other places, such as the Beethoven Museum in Bonn. They have one of Beethoven's original pianos, a Graf, which no one is allowed to touch. It is in original, non-playing condition. For concerts, recitals and recordings, they have acquired the twin to the Beethoven piano, a Graf of the same model. This one is kept in playable condition.

Why not do the same in your case? It probably would not be that hard to find an old Robinson of similar vintage and model. Restring and repair as needed to make it sound decent and play well - this could be a good stand-in for the original, which would be left untouched, with all the historical markings and damages.
_________________________
Jurgen Goering
Piano Forte Supply
www.pianofortesupply.com

Piattino Caster Cups distributor

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#1615459 - 02/08/11 04:58 PM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: Chris Leslie]
Pianolance Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/09
Posts: 1192
Loc: Nashville, TN
You might want to try CA glue treatment for the loose pins. There are several posts here on just how to do it. That way you can leave the origianl pins but would actually have a shot at tuning them. It's very cheap and in my experience also quite effective. It leaves no visible trace to compromise the originality of the instrument.
_________________________
Knabe 5'2" Louis XV Walnut circa 1927
Very part time piano broker.

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#1617366 - 02/11/11 01:44 AM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: Pianolance]
Chris Leslie Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/11
Posts: 908
Loc: Canberra, ACT, Australia
Originally Posted By: Pianolance
You might want to try CA glue treatment for the loose pins. There are several posts here on just how to do it. That way you can leave the origianl pins but would actually have a shot at tuning them. It's very cheap and in my experience also quite effective. It leaves no visible trace to compromise the originality of the instrument.


I have just returned from a second visit and decided to mutes out a few more strings. The lowest half octave is hopeless and will just have to be avoided during performance. I would dearly like to use CA glue, but since this instrument is under heritage restrictions I am not permitted to use any irreversible chemical treatments. I was very lucky to replace 7 dampers before they got too restrictive, and now I can't even bend any damper wires. cry I have done as much as permissible.

The performance event is actually part of a short documentary by a TV station on how this piano came to be, and it's role in the POW's concerts. The TV producers want the piano to both look and sound as it must have in prison - and this is what they are getting. The original surviving POW pianist will play something to set the scene. If I eventually get access to the video I will try to post it.
_________________________
Chris Leslie
Piano technician
http://www.chrisleslie.com.au

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#1620728 - 02/15/11 02:12 PM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: Chris Leslie]
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hi Chris,

I think you should post your original story in some of the other forums. I'm a regular contributor on Piano Forum, and I know they'd appreciate it over there. It's just great piano lore. Could be used as a flashback in a movie.

Tomasino
_________________________
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10


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#1643367 - 03/18/11 05:22 AM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: tomasino]
Chris Leslie Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/11
Posts: 908
Loc: Canberra, ACT, Australia
Yes, might be better in another forum, but here are some pics of the Changi prison piano just prior to the concert at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, 18th March 2011. The original prisoner pianists, Jack Boardman at 92 years of age, played and we had a great time with his extended family as the audience. There may be a little documentary about this historic event.

Changi piano beneath plane at Australian War Memorial:
http://www.chrisleslie.com.au/images/Changi1.jpg
Changi piano closer up:
http://www.chrisleslie.com.au/images/Changi2.jpg
Inside showing various mutes on loose strings:
http://www.chrisleslie.com.au/images/Changi3.jpg
Jack Boardman at the piano:
http://www.chrisleslie.com.au/images/Changi4.jpg
_________________________
Chris Leslie
Piano technician
http://www.chrisleslie.com.au

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#1934359 - 07/29/12 08:24 PM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: Chris Leslie]
Chris Leslie Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/11
Posts: 908
Loc: Canberra, ACT, Australia
Channel Seven in Australia finally broadcast this video about the piano, its history and the story behind the pianist and how they acquired the piano in prison: http://au.news.yahoo.com/sunday-night/video/watch/30123124

BTW - I was instructed to remove the images in the previous post but the video is publicly available.


Edited by Chris Leslie (07/30/12 09:14 PM)
_________________________
Chris Leslie
Piano technician
http://www.chrisleslie.com.au

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#1934368 - 07/29/12 08:56 PM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: Chris Leslie]
rada Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/07/06
Posts: 1124
Loc: pagosa springs,co
Wow, carved names in the lid.....this should inspire someone to do a movie.

rada

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#1934370 - 07/29/12 08:57 PM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: Chris Leslie]
Rod Verhnjak Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 3662
Loc: Vancouver B.C. Canada
That was cool!!! Thanks for sharing.
_________________________
Verhnjak Pianos
Specializing in the Restoration, Refinishing & Maintenance
of Fine Heirloom Pianos

Exclusive Dealer For Charles R. Walter Pianos
www.pianoman.ca
Verhnjak Pianos Facebook


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#1934414 - 07/29/12 10:14 PM Re: The Changi Prison piano [Re: Chris Leslie]
Dave B Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/01/11
Posts: 2132
Loc: Philadelphia area
An amazing piece of history.

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