Several months ago, I did something that most of my peers would consider to be crazy. I traded in my Steinway Model M grand piano for a Yamaha U1SH upright piano with Yamaha’s Silent feature. I absolutely love Steinways and especially loved the Model M that I owned for the past twelve years, but several months into my switch, I stand by my decision and strongly believe it was one of the best things I could have done.
As a professional keyboardist an synthesizer programmer actively working on Broadway, and as someone from a deep classical and jazz background, I consider it essential to own a quality piano for practicing and learning new repertoire. The Steinway M is a wonderful instrument, but not always the most practical in a tight New York City apartment. For years, I’ve maintained separate workspaces in my home for piano practice and for synthesizer programming and composing. In the interest of space and better organization, I decided that it was time to combine these spaces into one.
I contacted Dmitri Shelest of Faust Harrison Pianos in NYC as he was incredibly helpful in assisting me when it was time to purchase a new piano for the orchestra pit of the Broadway production of Disney’s Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theatre here in town. Dmitri made time for me to test the various Silent and Disklavier options in the Faust Harrison showroom. Once I decided on a model, he worked with me to decided on a fair price to trade in my Steinway and purchase the Yamaha. The process went as smoothly as it possibly could go.
Upon delivery, I went about setting up my new rig. Here’s how I did it. I run a MIDI cable from the MIDI out of the Silent Piano control box to a MIDI Solutions Quadra Merge
I also run a MIDI cable from an Akai Professional MPK49 keyboard controller to the Quadra Merge box. I connect the MIDI out of the Quadra Merge to the MIDI in of a MOTU UltraLite-MK3 Hybrid FireWire/USB2 Audio Interface
The MOTU is connected to my Apple Mac Mini computer housed in a Sonnet Technologies RackMac Mini housing.
I run audio outputs from the MOTU UltraLite to my Mackie 1202 mixer, which sits on top of the Yamaha U1SH, and run a pair of outputs from the Mackie to my Adam A7 near field monitors, also sitting on top of the U1SH. This way, I can use the Yamaha U1SH as my main MIDI controller, but I have the option to use the AKAI should I need aftertouch, pitch bend, or mod wheel. I also run an expression pedal through the AKAI just in case I need that too. I have a video monitor connected to a Loctek D7L
On the Mac Mini I have Apple’s MainStage software, Logic Pro, and Sibelius. I find this setup is incredibly ergonomic and flexible. I can easily switch between composing, synth programming, and practicing and the rig adjusts according to my needs.
First of all, as a NYC apartment dweller, it’s very practical to be able to use the Silent feature on the piano for when I want to practice early in the morning, late at night, or while practicing extremely repetitive figures so that I don’t test the patience of my neighbors. The internal sounds of the U1SH are shockingly good, and I find that I really enjoy practicing with headphones sometimes.
When learning music for Broadway shows, it’s often helpful to practice along with a recording of the show. I have a template set up in Logic for this. For example, when preparing to play the Keyboard Two part for Book Of Mormon recently, I loaded the audio of the monitor mix into a track in Logic and set up a piano sound on another track. I placed markers throughout the file so that I could identify specific locations in the score, and I could practice along with the monitor recording while adjusting the balance between my playing and the track.
For composing, it’s very helpful to be able to jump back and forth between the AKAI controller and the Yamaha depending upon what the part calls for. I can use the Yamaha for keyboard instruments, drums, and guitars, but the AKAI is great for synth patches and strings, just as an example. And the pitch bend and mod wheel are right there when and if I need them.
And for synth programming, it’s so nice to be able to start my work using the Yamaha as my main controller. As most Broadway productions use fully weighted action controllers in the orchestra pit and most of the players come from a strong acoustic piano background, it’s helpful to experience the MainStage patches as the players would approach them.
For backups, I constantly keep a LaCie hard drive connected to the Mac Mini for Time Machine backups, but I also back up to a Glyph drive and to a Dropbox folder.
Though for playing, there’s no substitute for a Steinway Model M (except for a Steinway Model B or D), I find that with the Yamaha U1SH I get so much enjoyment out of the piano and the increased boost to my creativity that I actually don’t miss having the Steinway at all. I can now play piano any time day or night, I can use my rig in ways I couldn’t before, and my workspace now takes up half the amount of space in my apartment. I’ve been so much more productive and creative since making the move.
My thanks go out to Dmitri Shelest and all of the other folks at Faust Harrison for making this such an easy transition. I’m absolutely thrilled with my new piano and can’t imagine working any other way now.
MIDI Solutions Quadra Merge
Akai Professional MPK49
MOTU UltraLite-MK3 Hybrid FireWire/USB2 Audio Interface
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