My Mom Mary Bland learnt to play the piano on her Granny Mary Bland’s upright Otto Bach at 13 Stuart Street. Mom’s sister Pat didn’t play, but when Granny Bland died the piano had to go to the older granddaughter. But how to get it there?
Jack Shannon had a bakkie and he volunteered to schlep it to Blyvooruitzicht, or as the Cowies called it, ‘Blayfore’. It got dropped at some stage in the loading or offloading and had to be repaired when it got there. All was well.
Years later Pat died and Bill decided it should go to Barbara as she played, and his daughters Frankie and Gemma did not. So another farmer with a bakkie was roped in to schlep it back from Blayfore – this time Barbara’s long-suffering husband Jeff Tarr carted it to PMB or Howick or Greytown (must ask Barbara). Barbara still has the piano in her home on their farm Umvoti Villa on the Mispah road outside Greytown. It’s now her daughter Linda’s home and Linda does play – hockey, jolling, all else – just not the piano. Maybe her daughter Mary-Kate will keep up the tradition of ‘Marys that play that piano’?
Meantime Mom had bought another: an upright Bentley. Marie Bain had bought her daughter, Mom’s cousin, Lynn the Bentley hoping she’d learn to play ‘like Mary.’ Well, Lynn never took to playing, so Mom bought it from Marie for the same £100 she had paid for it years before. This was the piano we were so privileged to grow up with at 95 Stuart Street, listening to Mom playing Hymns, Classical and Popular music. Who could forget the late night drinking songs when the Goor Koor gang would gather round her and bellow out their alcohol fumes, cigarette ash and varying levels of talent with gay abandon.
Mom still has the Bentley in PMB and still plays it beautifully. They’re upright pianos, not ‘grand’ pianos, but they certainly have been a grand part of our lives from about 1920-something – Mary was born in 1928 – to 2019. And more to come.
Here Mary at 90 plays someone else’s piano. Her classical pieces she always played with the music score in front of her. She can no longer see well enough to read it, so mainly plays her popular pieces by memory now.
We grew up to these sounds in the background. How lucky can you get!? These next few classical pieces are ones she played. Played here by some wonderful pianists who are almost as good as Mom in her prime!
I remember a few times getting so overcome by the music – melancholy or something? – I’d run down the passage and ask Mom to stop playing! weird.
Which are the ‘good’ pianos?
In the last 200yrs about 12 500 brands of pianos have been sold – and many more models – 12 500 actual brand names! The branding of pianos is a minefield of bulldust. Here Martha Beth writes amusingly about her forthright opinion on the quality of the pianos she is asked about:
Hilariously, the more authentically German the name sounds, the more it may have been made in Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, South Africa, America or anywhere else! Once a piano did get a good name, a host of others suddenly had that or a very similar name! Steinway success spawned Steinbergs, Steinburgs, Steinerman, Steiner, Steingraber, Steinbach, Steinhoven, Steinmeyer, you get the picture. Each of them would claim to be THE famous Stein-what-you-call!
English piano makers Whelpdale Maxwell & Codd made – or ‘controlled’ – these brands, among others: Bentley, Broadwood, Knight, Welmar. They’re now out of business.
Otto Bach: See Dietman and Zimmerman for manufacture details. Otto Bach piano are possibly the most popular intermediate pianos in South Africa; the brand is certainly the most well known in South Africa. There are a wide range of Otto Bach pianos assembled in South Africa and some that were manufactured in the Zimmerman Factory in Germany.
“Otto Bach” ~~~~ seems originally to have been a name for pianos exported by Zimmermann, Leipzig for their export range. It appears that they took on the “Otto Bach, Leipzig” name by the twenties. It then seems that Dietmann, South Africa, purchased the “Otto Bach” brand in the 1950s and out it onto pianos they made, apparently not mentioning Leipzig. Alastair Laurence tells me that Knights supplied the piano parts to Dietmann for these, so they were virtually Knight pianos. There are still thousands of these Otto Bach pianos around; besides famous brands such as Steinway or Bösendorfer, it is probably the best-known piano brand in South African homes. By 1971, there were also “Otto Bach” pianos made entirely by Knight in Essex, and identical to their others except for the name on the front. Because of the varying origins of the name, it is not possible to date the pianos by their numbers.