I thought it was a good idea, my buddy Dan thought it was a great idea and our friends thought it was an awesome concept, but the president of Illinois College was not impressed. I think he called our idea “frivolous.” The Guinness Book of World Records was a hot seller back then and we eagerly awaited the publication of each new edition. Since Dan and I both played the keyboard, we thumbed through the music section and one world record caught our eye. “The World Record for the Longest Organ Concert on Record!” It had been set by two men and the record was a measly 30 hours or so. I forget the exact number, but Dan and I thought it well within our capability if we tag-teamed it for potty breaks and an occasional bag of Doritos.
Illinois College’s Rammelkamp Chapel didn’t have the Star Wars instrument they possess now, but the former instrument had three rows of keys and that was two more than either Dan or I knew how to use at one time. We wrote up our proposal, sent it to the office of the President of L. Vernon ‘Stick-in-the-Mud,’ and waited for a reply. Two days later, we got a return note that held all the warmth of a power bill, simply stating that our request had been denied. Not to be denied, Dan and I made an appointment to meet with the president, who put us off a week and then told us that our world record-breaking concert would be a frivolous use of the college’s facilities. Translation: the school wouldn’t make a dime. Dan and I had chosen not to charge admission since audience members would be free to come and go during the day. Long story short: nobody came because it was a no-go.
Quick Piano Fact: Steinway designed the modern piano and stopped at 88 keys for a number of reasons, chief among which was the fact that today’s piano pretty much covers the span that the human ear can distinguish. The Australian piano manufacturer, Stuart and Sons, makes a “Super Grand” for 102 keys and for $300,000, it’s yours.
So, Dan and I were shut down before we could bring a world record to Jacksonville. We considered doing the concert on my portable organ in one of the college dorms, but a quick call to Guinness told us that wouldn’t be deemed a concert.
Quick Organ Fact: Nina Irslinger of Norway set the new record with a 60-hour concert on her 60th birthday in 2015. Bummer. When did she tinkle?
The longest stretch of keyboard tinkling I can personally recall was a four-hour gig in the rotunda of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. It was near the end of the school year and every time I left Abe to find john, another busload would spew a new puddle of middle school students into the museum. Four hours is a long time to play the piano, but when the director of the museum requests that you play only Civil War era music, you get stretched pretty thin. The Civil War Battle of Dranesville lasted only from 1 until 3 p.m. I played the length of two wars that day.
Quick Piano Fact: The World’s Most Expensive Piano is the “Crystal Piano,” designed by a Canadian firm for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. It later sold for $3.22 million.
Dan and I never set any world records, although we did play “Stump the Band” on the IC radio station for 8 straight hours, a session in which we dared listeners to call in and stump us by naming a tune that we couldn’t play. A foreign exchange student finally ended our streak by asking for the Taiwan National Anthem. Double Bummer.
Quick Piano Fact: A grand piano has quicker action than an upright due to a little invention called the “repetition lever,” allowing the pianist to repeat a note when the key is only halfway up.
Just One More: The World’s Longest Piano is nearly 22 feet long and weighs two tons. It was made by a Polish fellow named Daniel Czapliewski. I have no idea why he’d do such a thing. With a last name like that, I guess you can do about anything.
This Saturday, we’ll be going for our own world record as a group of us piano bangers will be playing for eight hours at the Soap Company Coffee Shop in order to raise enough money to buy our Jacksonville Public Library a piano of its own. No world records are in sight, but it might be a local record for raising $5,000 in a single day. Please stop by and help us raise funds to help the library’s Concerts Under the Dome continue with a fine instrument. I don’t play that well, but I bear a passing resemblance to the dome.