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Musical Space: Piano Falling

Jordan Kirtley

Composer Catherine Yass was recently prevented by a neighborhood association from performing her piece “Piano Falling,” which involves a piano being pushed off the top of an unoccupied 27-story housing project building. The association concluded that the piece amounted to “antisocial behavior.”

I’m sorry that “Piano Falling” won’t be realized; it could have been a powerful statement about the unrealized promise of a decaying modernist structure. But mostly I just want to know what it sounds like when a grand piano hits the ground from a fall of over 270 feet.

My research also couldn’t come up with a good recording of the Baker House Piano drop, an annual event in which MIT students drop a piano from six stories.

So if you’re are as curious as I am about the sound of piano disintegration, I’m afraid the best I can do is a recording of Raphael Montañez Ortiz performing one of his famous piano destruction concerts; this one at the Hirschhorn museum in Washington, D.C. The piano is not dropped, but the piece does involve a sledgehammer. I hope that will do.

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.