I crave the authentic. I find myself drawn to those things that are anchored in the past, anchored in the old way of doing things. Maybe it's because so many things these days are disposable, made to crumble. Or maybe it's because so many things are merely representations of a once real thing. Analogs of the authentic.
That is precisely why I got so excited when Bill Miller called me to tell me about the pianos in his shop that date back to the 1850's. When he told me he was the third generation of his family to take on the piano repair business I listened. It is not usual for people to call us to see if we are interested in photographing their particular project or endeavor. It is unusual for their pursuit to be so interesting.
When I visited Miller in his North Tulsa shop, a cinderblock building located on a road of small industry and manufacturing, I knew this was special. Inside were dozens of amazing artifacts of authenticity. Objects of beauty whose form followed even more beautiful function. Objects whose utility was anything but utilitarian. Artful curves made to produce artful sounds.
Miller was excited to share his craft. He was eager to point out the painstaking detail required required to repair these amazing pianos. They don't make them like this anymore. But that is no reason why they shouldn't get their chance to play. In fact, Miller sees it as even more reason why they should play.
It's not like the furniture today, when you go to the Antique Roadshow they don't want you to refinish it, do nothing to it, leave it as is," Miller said. "If you had a piano that did not play, then nobody would buy that piano."
"It's just like an old car," he added. "You take an old car and restore it back and it goes up in value big time. It's the same way with a piano."
While it is important that these pianos are beautiful, and when Miller is done, they truly are, it is more important that they sound beautiful, and when Miller is done, they definitely do.
These pianos arrive broken, chipped and peeling. They clank, clack or click if they produce any sound at all. Then the painstaking work begins. All by hand, all with deliberate, measured progress. And what remains when Miller's work is complete is substance; big and bold, beautiful and true. Bill Miller Piano Man
from Tulsa World
Bill Miller installs new pins and wires on and 1853 John Broadwood piano in his shop in Tulsa. The piano is bound for the Queen Anne mansion in Eureka Springs, Ark. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World
Bill Miller tunes a piano at his North Tulsa repair shop and showroom. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World
An 1853 B?sendorfer and and 1882 B?sendorfer sit side by side in Bill Miller's shop North Tulsa repair shop and showroom. Restoration takes approximately 6 months to restore. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World
Bill Miller plays a miniature piano that he was told was used in the movie Casablanca. He has no documentation. It is a dollhouse piano and is significant nonetheless. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World
Bill Miller files a shank from a B?sendorfer piano at his North Tulsa repair shop and showroom. Each individual shank had to be handmade. There are 88 in a B?sendorfer piano. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World
A King piano from New York from 1901 was salvaged from a fire and restored at his North Tulsa repair shop and showroom. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World
Only active print or digital subscribers of the Tulsa World are allowed to post comments on stories posted to Tulsaworld.com. After you fill out the form below and click submit, your comment will be published instantly online along with your screen name.
By clicking "Submit" you are agreeing to our terms and conditions.