The Piano Man, and other musical notes

The one antique at A Butler’s Manor to which I can trace the entire provenance is our 1912 Chase & Baker player piano, which has been in my mother’s family since the year it was built. It spent its first forty years in the Chicago area where my mother grew up, journeyed to Los Angeles when she married and dominated our family room there for the next forty years before coming to me in 1999. I worried originally that its elderly parts, perhaps desiccated by arid California climate, would crumble amidst the seasonal changes and frequent humidity of the East End. Instead, I found to my delight that the old girl obviously relished the change of scenery; her tone only grew rounder and more mellow once transplanted to the Hamptons.

As anyone who has visited A Butler’s Manor knows, the upright piano with its original black walnut case anchors the two parts of our living room (once two separate rooms, a front parlor and back parlor). Guests are invited to play if they know how (please, no Chopsticks!). Once in awhile someone takes us up on it and its plummy notes pour forth, the acoustics of the wood balanced by the brick-over-wood floor and the large, open space. The music will draw me from my office in the back of the house as surely as a bee to pollen (or–a timely analogy–as a wasp to orange juice).
Once, we were thrilled to be hosting a professional classical pianist who was in town to perform at a benefit. I was almost afraid to offer her my little old upright piano, but she was happy to have a piano available and practiced one of her numbers that afternoon prior to her recital. It was magical. 
Occasionally, guests take an interest in the old player and either Chris or I pull forth a piano roll (I have about 100 of them) and demonstrate. The player piano is activated by pedals that you pump, sort of like an elliptical machine. (And oy, is it a workout! Once upon a time, I could pedal that piano all night, but now? Hah. If I played a roll or two every day I’d probably be in much better shape.)
So even though I don’t (yet) play myself, it is important to me that the piano remains as tuned as a 100+-year-old piano can, and that task we entrust to Mike Scianetti, owner of the Piano Barn in Water Mill. In addition to being a business owner, Mike is a professional musician, singer, and songwriter.
Watching Mike tune the piano is fascinating. First, he lifts the top lid which allows him to gently pull the faceplace away, exposing the tuning pins and string (wires), dampers and hammers. You can see below the box in the middle where the player piano roll is inserted, and below it, the brass tracker duct, cut with 88 tiny diagonal holes, each representing a key on the piano keyboard. Behind the box is a pneumatic that feeds the bellows that somehow (engineering not being my strong suit) transfers the impetus caused by a roll of paper pricked with thousands of holes (that represent notes) into action which depresses the keys and produces… music. It still amazes me.

What the pictures don’t show here is that he also pulls away the face frame located below the keyboard, which exposes the bellows necessary to transfer the pedal action to the spool box. My engineer father mended one of these bellows when I was an adolescent, but otherwise they, like the rest of the piano’s works and case, are completely untouched and original. On a recent visit, Mike told us the bellows could use a little attention…an operation that will require flipping the piano onto its back and hence won’t be done until winter, when the quiet season allows us the possibility of turning the entire front parlor into a piano operating theater.
My favorite aspect of getting the piano tuned is that Mike plays it as he works to check his machinations. He uses all or as much of the keyboard as possible, to check the veracity of both the low and high ends of the sound spectrum. To this end, he’ll play a selection of pieces ranging from classical to ragtime (my request always) to popular works. His tuning sessions feel like a mini-concert. I know today’s modern keyboards are phenomenal pieces of musical engineering, but to my ears, the sound of a hand-crafted wooden piano has a richness and depth incomparable to its modern counterparts. Listening to the pure, sonorous notes reignites my desire to learn to play other than with my feet.
And speaking of concerts and of classical music, we are in the midst of the annual month-long Bridgehampton Music Festival. This series is about as different from the casual Concerts in the Park series or weekly live entertainment at the Wine Stand at Wolffer Estates as one can get in the Hamptons, proving that, especially in the summer, there are opportunities for everyone’s musical tastes. Most of the Bridgehampton Music Festival concerts are held at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church (wonderful acoustics!) and all events are ticketed in advance. (Act fast! Only a few dates left!) I’ve been to a couple of the concerts, and they are masterful.I’ve always found that classical music has a special ability to soothe the soul.
On that note (ha!), maybe I’ll pull out one of the classical piano rolls and get a physical workout along with a mental de-stress….maybe Franz von Suppe’s Light Calvary Overture…
Quote of the Day: “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” ― Albert Einstein

Soothing the stressed soul, part 1

Picture this: A warm afternoon. A shaded deck overlooking a vanishing perspective of grapevine rows. The sun, softened by afternoon sky, warming the cascaded fruit tucked beneath the copious green leaves. An occasional warm sigh of breeze stirring your hair. A comfortable deck chair. The smooth slender stem of a cool glass of wine in hand. The fat doughnut notes of a mellow saxophone grounded by a rumbling standing bass.
Relaxed yet?
This is one of my most favorite ways to end a summer day. 
I love that many of our local wineries have developed an experience more likely to engage all of your senses than simply a wine tasting, and that tasting rooms are increasingly open later on weekend nights. Here on the South Fork, weather permitting, Duck Walk Vineyards in Water Mill features live music on the back patio Friday night 5-8 PM, where you can catch a sunset over the vineyard (!!) and toast the end of the workweek, as well as on Saturday and Sunday afternoons 1-5 PM. Chris and I often suggest Duck Walk’s weekend jazz afternoons as a great option for the end of a day spent rambling round the Hamptons, since it’s a scant 3 miles from A Butler’s Manor. Bring your new favorite wine back to enjoy on the patio around the pool before changing for dinner.
Wolffer Estate Vineyard features two venues: their gorgeous main tasting room on Sagg Main Road in Sagaponack, where Twilight Thursdays are held each Thursday 5-8 PM, and the Wine Stand, around the corner on Montauk Highway, for Sunset Friday and Saturdays, 5-8 PM. Both locations feature the option to purchase wines by the glass or bottle, as well as cheese and charcuterie plates. Live music is featured at both locations. Thursdays hew closer to a jazz format whereas the weekends feature a more eclectic blend.
Hey, but I’m visiting midweek! you cry. What’s going on when I’m there?
Through the end of June (so far!) Wolffer also has extracurricular events on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Main Tasting Room. On Tuesdays, become a local at Locals Night, when 4-8 PM, glasses of wine are half price and for a small fee between 6-8 PM you can participate in the following activity:
  • June 10:  Chocolate Paired and Made with Wine 
  • June 17: Wine-Themed Poetry Night
  • June 24: ROSÉ WEEK: Rosé in the Raw–Wolffer rosé wines paired with shellfish, at the Wine Stand. ($25 per person in advance, $30 at the door)
On Wednesdays between 6-7 PM, educate yourself on all things oenophilian. For a small fee, enjoy a themed tasting led by knowledgeable experts:
  • June 4: The Wines of Alsace and the Loire Valley
  • June 11: Sparkling Wines
  • June 18: Tasting Techniques
  • June 25: Special Edition: Big Rosé World ($25 in advance, $30 at the door)
And lastly, a summer weekend offering that teams wine tasting with bicycling through the beauty of the backcountry between these two South Fork vineyards:  Pour and Pedal offers a 4-5 hour tour (and they supply the bikes!) which begins at Wolffer and ends with lunch at Duck Walk. How virtuous would you feel after that tour?
steady stick wine holders From RedEnvelope.comOkay, for those of you who’d prefer to unwind at little farther from the madding crowd, here’s a variation to picture: Beachside in a sand chair with a mansion at your back and the surf before your toes. A cold bottle of wine in these cool holders. Your fave chill-out tunes on your iPod…
So aren’t you just THERE, already, in your mind? I sure am.
Quote of the Day: There’s never enough time to do all the nothing that you want. –Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

Kicking off summer 2010

It just doesn’t get any better than this:  a warm summer afternoon on the stunning Tuscan-inspired patio overlooking the vineyards at Wolffer Estate Winery, enjoying a glass of wine, some artisanal cheeses and bread while listening to international jazz by saxophonist Charles Certain and guitarist Alfredo Merat. The winery’s popular Twilight Thursdays (at the winery) and Sunset Fridays (at the farmstand on Rte. 27, just east of the winery) are back. Summer can officially begin!

While the calendar says summer is still almost a month away, Memorial Day is traditionally the summer kick-off here in the Hamptons. In the garden here at A Butler’s Manor, the warm, wet Spring has pushed everything forward about three weeks ahead of schedule. Most Memorial Day weekends, I’m cutting lilacs for the guest rooms…this year, it will be the pink Queen Elizabeth roses, which began opening this morning. And it looks like we’ll have perfect 70-degree weather for the holiday weekend. As I write, the outside temp is 80 degrees, the first real hot day of the year, and the pool is looking mighty tempting! I hope everyone is packing the sunscreen for the weekend, as the beach is going to be the place to be!

In our ongoing efforts to update our restaurant dining guide for our guests (hey, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), Chris and I visited a new restaurant overlooking the canal in Hampton Bays this week. Rumba is Caribbean island-inspired cuisine with a distinct nod to owner/chef David Hersh’s Miami upbringing and New Orleans background. It’s a small, casual place reminiscent of an island beach bar, with bamboo paddle fans and a deck overlooking the Shinnecock Canal. We had delectable Dominican ribs, and yummy marinated rib eye with roasted sweet potatoes and…I couldn’t help it…I had to splurge on the homemade key lime pie with a mountain of real whipped cream. And speaking of entertainment, on Thursdays Rumba features “Project Vibe,” live Reggae music from 8 -11 PM. A breeze off the water, the setting sun, a convivial crowd…what could go better with your daiquiri, mon?

Looking forward to warm summer breezes..and French wines with cheeses…and maybe some Jimmy Buffett music to go with the sand between my toes…

Quote of the Day: Summer afternoon – Summer afternoon… the two most beautiful words in the English language. — Henry James

Tweets (not the Twitter kind)

June is popping out all over, to quote the old song from Carousel. All of the birdhouses around the garden are occupied with nesting families of varying types of birds, and several more who prefer “roughing it” to moving into a premade house are guarding nests in the shrubbery or trees. (One Papa Robin whose family is secreted in a yew bush outside our office, cannot seem to learn that he is not seeing a rival in the window, but his own reflection in the glass…even though we now have an entire window of little robin footprints to mar the clarity of that reflection.) Walk through the garden and you’ll hear the occasional chorus of little tweets and peeps as the baby birds let their parents know they are HUNGRY! If you look closely at the pictures above, you’ll see one of the baby starlings peeking his beak out, waiting for his next meal…and then home delivery of the meal by one of the busy parents. Sweet. They will be fledging soon.

And the roses are in bloom! Their scent is in the air over the whole garden, but especially as you walk across the grass and mount the steps towards the pool. I cut dozens of blooms for the guest rooms this weekend, set off by lemon-yellow sprigs of lady’s mantle flowers, which also proliferate this time of year. The peonies are just beginning to open.

The flora and fauna of the garden have enjoyed the rain showers we’ve had this past week…we humans were less appreciative. So far, the weather hasn’t been very cooperative for the guests who are looking for a relaxing day at the beach. It’s great that we have other options…Peconic Bay Winery, over on the North Fork, has a lively schedule every weekend of live music in the afternoons, with wine by the glass and even local cheese and sushi for sale while you enjoy! And closer to home, Wolffer Vineyards has added another event to its roster of things to do: Every Friday evening at their farm and wine stand on Rte 27 just east of the winery, they have a TGIF wine-and-jazz event from 5 – 7 PM, again, with free artisanal cheese and wines for sale by the glass. Chris and I haven’t made it up there yet to try it out, but I expect it is especially popular with visitors arriving from Manhattan and points east after what can sometimes be a long slog through traffic.

Yesterday, there was a Classic Car show and auction in Bridgehampton that drew a lot of traffic (yeah, pun intended)…Chris went off to enjoy it for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and I guess I’m counting myself lucky we don’t now own another classic car! (The deal we have is one at a time!)
Quote of the Day: There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before. —Robert Lynd

Wine & Whine (of the automobile sort)

Yesterday was Attempt #2 to spring the Mini from its winter home. Two Saturdays ago, Chris discovered a whining in the wheel area of our 1961 Mini Cooper while trying to drive it back to A Butler’s Manor. So Tom Abbe, our wonderful traveling (-!!) mechanic (and incidentally, talented professional photographer), came out East to work on the wheel bearings. But alas, though he and Chris fiddled with it all afternoon, Tom decided during the final road test back to A Butler’s Manor that more fiddling is needed. So…Chris won’t be participating in the Spring Fling Mini Rally this year, but the other 27 drivers will be making a quick pit stop here on Saturday afternoon for tea and cookies. Here is one of Tom’s photos!

Last night we joined several of our fellow Hamptons innkeepers at a special tour and tasting at Wolffer Vineyards, one of the beautiful (and yummy!) wineries here on the East End. Wolffer has a weekly Twilight Thursday event which we recommend highly to guests — a lovely happy “hour” (actually, 5:00 – 7:30 PM) in their tasting room overlooking their rolling fields of grapevines. Live jazz, free cheese and crackers and the ability to buy their wines by the glass — a great way to wind down after your day. In fact, two of our guests attended, and this morning, they were planning on encouraging their daughter to check out the winery as her wedding location. Chris and I, in our previous life, moonlighted with a caterer here in the Hamptons (Brent Newsom Caterer — yummy!) so consequently did many weddings at Wolffer, and it is a divine location for weddings and parties. It was nice to catch up with several of our friends from other B and Bs before the season really gets busy.
Quote of the Day: Con pan y vino se anda el camino [With bread and wine you can walk your road]. — Spanish Proverb
Kim Allen