Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Avondale's Musical Sharps

On coming home yesterday, I find another intriguing email in the inbox.

Robert Perry has a website called Pianola.co.nz -- "Preserving the music of yesterday", devoted to music from player piano rolls. According to his site:
"The player piano had its heyday between 1900 and 1930, when it brought music to the home prior to recorded music becoming widely available (and of acceptable sound quality). During this time, literally millions of piano rolls, recorded and arranged by some of the most famous pianists of the era, were produced by dozens of music roll companies. Music to suit every taste was available, from classical to ragtime to the popular hits of the day.

"Now, over 100 years after the player piano was invented, time has taken its toll on the paper music rolls. Thanks to the dedication of enthusiasts worldwide, the technology now exists to preserve this wonderful music for all time, using custom-built optical scanners and software. What you hear on your computer is exactly what was recorded or arranged onto roll, in many cases over 90 years ago."
Of special interest to Avondale's heritage is that Robert has information and midi files of music from the rolls produced by the Reliance Music Roll Company -- actually two brothers named Reginald Albert Sharp (c1897-1977) and Frederick Arthur Sharp (c.1899-1980). They lived with their father Albert Henry Sharp at 38 Canal Road during the 1920s producing their rolls, and were, according to Robert, the first and only music roll company to operate in New Zealand. I spoke to a former resident of Canal Road last night, now well into his 80s -- he told me that he well remembered the two Sharp brothers and their father, and that people came from far and wide to the house on Canal Road for the music.

From Robert's email:
"I guess this must be some of the earliest recorded New Zealand music. I was lucky enough to acquire from an estate sale many of their 'master' recordings, unsold stock, roll-making machinery, and various other bits and pieces. I've also had a machine custom-built that scans the rolls into computer format and preserves them archivally, with the side benefit of creating a MIDI file that can be listened to on computer.

"If this interests you, you can take a look at a little more information (I haven't yet collated all the data I've gathered, but it's a small start) at my website.

"If you wish to listen to some of the piano recordings made by Reliance in Avondale, you can visit this section:
and fill in Reliance in the 'roll brand' field and press 'submit query'."
By the time the two brothers died, they had become eccentric hoarders. Some details about the contents of their houses here.

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