Christopher Payne photographs workers at the Steinway factory in his book, Making Steinway.

The People Who Craft World-Class Steinway Pianos

The People Who Craft World-Class Steinway Pianos

Behold
The Photo Blog
July 7 2016 10:12 AM

The People Who Craft World-Class Steinway Pianos

Williamgreenidge
William Greenidge regulates the hammers on the action.

Christopher Payne

Christopher Payne first toured the Astoria, Queens, factory where Steinway & Sons pianos are made in 2002 during a weekend open house. His father and grandmother were both pianists, and years later, after they died,his memories of the factory took on a spiritual significance.

“I felt an obligation to return to take pictures of the instrument so deeply connected to my family,” he said via email.

Between 2011 and 2015, Payne visited the factory more than 50 times to do just that. His photos are now collected in a book, Making Steinway, which was released in June through Steinway and New York’s Benrubi Gallery.

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Left: Mikael Gregorian glues felt-clad hammers to the hammer shanks. Right: Sunil C. Tirloki, “Bellyman.”

Christopher Payne

Rebertguillaume
Rebert Guillaume, piano stringer.

Christopher Payne

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Left: Andrew Martin, polyester sprayer. Right: Doosasan Jainarain with glue for rim bending.

Christopher Payne

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Eddy Senat finishing a lid.

Christopher Payne

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Galo Torres using a custom-made tool to notch the bridge on a soundboard.

Christopher Payne

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A former architect, Payne took special interest in the intricacies of assembly. As a result, many of his photos focus on the hundreds of processes and more than 12,000 parts that go into the making of a single instrument.

The ones shown here, however, focus on the people behind that undertaking. About 350 union employees work at the factory. In Payne’s environmental portraits, from among the buzz of activity, they are individually highlighted and celebrated. Some are seen absorbed in their work, while others have paused to look at the camera, but across the board, they display an unassuming sense of dignity and an unmistakable pride in their craft.

“Pretty much every job there—from sweeping the floor all the way up to installing the soundboard or performing final tone regulation—requires attention to detail,” he said.

With Steinway’s blessing, Payne spent time in virtually every corner of the large factory, from the foundry where the iron is poured to the mill where the lumber is cut. And though he came to possess a strong technical understanding of how these elements come together to form precision musical instruments, he said, the transformation never ceased to strike him as an act of magic.

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“My architectural training helped me to understand how the instrument works on a technical level, but I am still amazed that something so complex can create such beautiful music. Simply put, the piano is more than the sum of its parts,” he said.

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Left: Nick Matsis, case varnishing. Right: Michael Powers putting the final touch on a restored antique piano plate.

Christopher Payne

eddiecarrasco
Eddie Carrasco, restoration specialist.

Christopher Payne

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Left: Prenta Ljucovic, Steinway woodworker since January 1973. Right: Wally Boot, final tone inspector, retired at the end of 2014 after 52 years of service.

Christopher Payne

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Gwendolyn Folk inserts lead weights into the keys to ensure even responsiveness to touch across the keyboard.

Christopher Payne

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Left: Ryan Houseman and Dan Hensley pour the iron for all the Steinway plates at the O. S. Kelly Foundry. Right: Edgar Lembert at the rim pointing machine.

Christopher Payne

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Louis Forero, master carver, restoring a Victorian-style piano leg.

Christopher Payne

Jordan G. Teicher is the associate editor of Slates Behold blog. Follow him on Twitter.