By Justin Bernard, translated by Margaret Britt
Original article in La Scena Musicale
Founded in 1996, the Piano Esmonde White company, named after its founder Oliver Esmonde-White, has established itself as a Quebec leader in the areas of piano rental, transportation, tuning and manufacturing. Bolstered by the expertise of its technicians, this company located in Montreal’s Mile-End district has just launched a brand-new model of high-end uprights: Magic pianos.
In the 1980s, in the United States, Darrell Fandrich of Fandrich & Sons had already developed a very high-quality mechanism for the upright piano – achieving sound qualities similar to those of a grand piano. The technicians at Piano Esmonde White drew inspiration from this. They sought to improve this mechanism through a series of adjustments: beyond the (classic) escape mechanism that remains as reliable as that of a grand piano, the durability of the parts has been greatly increased and the tuning stability improved. The result is an upright piano of excellent quality, both inside and out.
“We created openings [in the front panel]to allow the pianist to watch the mechanism while he plays. It’s a unique experience. For the artists, it’s like being in the front row of a concert hall. One hears all the sounds that emerge. To be able to see the mechanism, thanks to the lighting installed inside, provides a feeling of intimacy, of great closeness to the instrument.
“I was not expecting to receive so much positive feedback from pianists,” admits Esmonde-White. “In addition, all the external components can be changed, which allows us to offer the client a customized product.”
To succeed in this endeavour of creating a new range of upright pianos, Esmonde White and his team of technicians used pre-existing piano structures. To this end, former Ritmüller pianos were carefully selected and dismantled before being rebuilt in the manner of the Esmonde White pianos. We are here in the presence of what Esmonde-White calls an “ecosystem” conducive to the development of the environment and the discipline of piano-making.
The founder of Piano Esmonde White values the sense of history, the respect for tradition and excellence, but also has an almost ecological vision of his professional environment. He advocates for a return to the basics, a return to the essence of what underlies the piano maker’s profession.
“It all started 300 years ago,” he says. “In Florence, a person employed by the Medicis had the idea – a bit far-fetched – to make a keyboard that could sound both soft and strong (piano-forte). This replaced the harpsichord and the clavichord because it offered more opportunities to performers, both professional and amateur. In the 19th century, the piano, which had been part of salon life, became more affordable for many people. This was well before the industrial revolution, so everything was done by hand, with the town or village blacksmith making all the parts.”
According to Esmonde-White, piano-making saw its last phase of research and development at the turn of the 20th century (1880-1910). Subsequently, industrial methods led to mass production and an associated decline in quality. Today, it is the quest to find perfection that drives the company’s projects. “In 2019, we still use the same principles. Essentially, over the last 100 years, very little has changed. The mechanism has reached maturity. Of course, new materials remain to be explored, not for reasons of productivity or manufacturing speed, but for reasons of quality.”
Piano Esmonde White is not only specialized in piano-making, but also in piano rental and transportation services. The company participates in the whole “piano ecosystem,” to use a term dear to Esmonde-White. According to him, the diversity of services offered is a response to the many difficulties he himself encountered at the beginning of his career. “One of the first problems I had to deal with 30 years ago was the fact that the rental pianos were delivered dirty, in poor condition, and late. I constantly had to step in to do damage control. It made me angry.
“One day, someone said to me, ‘Stop complaining, and do what you need to do! And do it better than everyone else.’ We decided then to buy our own high-end moving equipment, and to devise a heated and winterized moving truck. Nobody had thought of it before. Today, as a result, we are at the forefront of the industry in the field of piano rental in Montreal and the surrounding area. In fact, there are no salespeople here, only piano technicians who have banded together. At Esmonde White, we work to offer the best quality instrument and to serve the artist. We would like to have competition because we think it would be very stimulating for the ecosystem of our community. It’s not something that scares us; on the contrary, we encourage that.”
This past summer, the founder of Piano Esmonde White launched a petition for an ecosystem project that can benefit not only the musical world (by means of training of piano technicians), but also the whole of Quebec society. Oliver Esmonde-White can point to numerous scientific studies that have already demonstrated the beneficial effects of music on brain and cognitive development of preschool children (Bolduc, Lavoie and Fleuret, 2009). He now wishes to act concretely in this direction and to promote musical education among the very youngest. He has already received the support of such well-known artists as Alain Lefebvre, Gilles Vigneault, Oliver Jones and Gregory Charles. If this cause is important to you, go to: www.pianoew.com/enoncedevision