Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Siue Educator Loves `Teaching' Decrepit Pianos to Play Again

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Siue Educator Loves `Teaching' Decrepit Pianos to Play Again

Article excerpt

This is really a terrible time to find out about Deane Wiley, a high-ranking academic from Edwardsville who has invested thousands of hours rebuilding other people's player pianos for free.

He's leaving.

His house is sold. His last gratis job, a 1917 Schumann belonging to someone from south St. Louis County, is in the final stages of reassembly in the workshop. Well, a little of it is in the living room, too. But not much.

So don't call him anymore - he cannot do it.

But for a lucky 40 or 50 people or so who knew Wiley, or pursued the word-of-mouth tales about his craftsmanship, their homes are filled with the automated music of restored old pianos that can play themselves.

Wiley's new house in Las Vegas will resonate with the mellow notes of five of these contraptions of his own, when he gets around to fixing them.

"I'm like the cobbler whose children have no shoes," he explained. "I don't have one of these things myself that works."

If the hobby seems far removed from Wiley's life as an educator - he was probably best known around here as the first dean of the School of Education at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville - he wanted it that way for relaxation.

Wiley always loved music. From his teen years when a school band leader arbitrarily ordained Wiley a trombonist, he was hooked on making music, hooked on listening to music, hooked on collecting music. Today, his catalogue of tens of thousands of recordings is computerized.

Yet it was another fascination - with things mechanical - that led him to pay $50 at auction for a player piano that had suffered not only the failure of its innards but the humiliation of being painted green.

The education dean soon learned the hard way that the 2,000-odd parts of a player piano come apart a lot easier than they go back together.

It bears explaining here that player pianos were invented to provide live music to people who did not play. Two motorized spools feed a paper "piano roll" over a vacuum device that strikes the keys in coordination with holes punched in the paper.

These machines were born in the 1800s, in the days before phonographs, and remained popular as a high-fidelity alternative to the scratchiness of early recorded music. …

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