Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037
A vanishing style of manufacturing is chronicled in exhaustive detail in this film by Ben Niles detailing the hand-crafted construction of a Steinway piano over the course of a year. If its feature-length running time inevitably results in some degree of repetition, "Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037" is nonetheless a fascinating documentary that more than just piano lovers can enjoy. It recently received its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York's Film Forum.
The Steinway & Sons factory, located in Astoria, Queens, makes a decidedly high-end product, commanding prices for its instruments starting at $25,000. That's because this 150-year-old institution produces a mere 2,000 or so pianos a year, compared with the about 100 a day produced by competitors.
The film follows the course of one such instrument, No. L1037, from the search for its wood in the forests of Alaska to its eventual display at Manhattan's Steinway Hall. The numbers tell the story: Each piano is made up of about 12,000 parts, as assembled by a team of 450 craftsmen working by hand. These blue-collar workers, bearing such distinctive job titles as "belly maker," "grand finisher" and "final tone inspector," represent a range of ethnicities.
This manufacturing process results in pianos that are idiosyncratically distinctive, a trait testified to in the film by such musical luminaries as Helene Grimaud, Lang Lang, Hank Jones and Harry Connick Jr.
The film's soundtrack naturally includes numerous piano selections as played by these and other notable musicians.