Australia was once the home of the largest number of pianos per person in the world. Currently traditional acoustic pianos are decaying all over the world and being replaced by the modern digital piano. Tasmanian piano tuner, Martin Tucker, refuses to accept the trend of the traditional piano disappearing forever and is passionate about keeping them restored and in use. For over two years this observational documentary closely follows Martin as he ventures into remote corners of the Australian continent, battling the climate and retrieving old acoustic pianos for a unique piano orphanage. From Darwin, Alice Springs, to isolated rural towns in Tasmania, we will meet eccentric and passionate piano lovers who all share with Martin, the unique bond of deep love for their pianos and the joy that music brings to their lives. This documentary offers a rare window into the homes of this diverse group of piano lovers, as they share not only their musical passion but also their intimate life stories, as Martin spends hours tuning and restoring their family heirlooms. Rich and poor, old and young, happy or depressed, Anglosaxon, Asian or aboriginal - they all love pianos. This documentary records powerful vignettes of unique and rich cultural history within this nation.
As Martin travels across Australia tuning pianos he sees the decline of the piano, with even some of his own clients, asking him to remove or destroy them so that they can be replaced with a digital piano. Seeing the imminent death of so many unwanted acoustic pianos reaches a climax in the film where Martin feels compelled to find a solution. He and his piano removalist friend, Tony Gamble, decide they will create a piano orphanage. It begins in Tony’s garage and quickly grows out of space. Now pianos have to be stored also at Martin's house and his family residence putting at risk of the safety of the floor being able to support them all. Next stop is Tony's donkey farm outside Hobart but that is filling up too. How many pianos is it possible to save? How will they find homes for these unwanted pianos? Will we see pianos forever?
Martin Tucker is a piano tuner from Hobart, Tasmania. For 35 years he has made his living from tuning traditional acoustic pianos by ear and meticulously repairing them. Martin fell in love with the piano as a child and has been playing the piano since he was nine years old. Martin isn’t scared of living roughly and he has an adaptability to travel and go to places others would never dare. His determination, ability to develop close bonds with his clients and dry humour will keep audiences entertained all the way through this story.
How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?
As a filmmaker and a newcomer to Australia, I have been confronted many times with the notion, expressed by Australians themselves that ‘Australia has no culture’. My observational documentary will challenge this notion by providing evidence of a vibrant piano culture. The film will unfold the story of two Australian immigrants – Octavius Beale and Hugo Wertheim, who built factories to make pianos for local market. We see archival footage of Beale, the biggest piano factory in British Empire. Both Beale and Wertheim pianos are still alive in Australian homes and being maintained and tuned by Martin. The documentary also captures the piano owners’ stories around the Beale and Wertheim pianos in their families and the generations before them.
Neville, a motor mechanic from Hobart barters his piano tuning for servicing Martin's car. Neville plays his old Canadian piano a few times as week as is finds a place in the corner of his mechanics workshop. “I'm never tired of it. It always welcomes me back. The sound of E flat is it's for me a kind of cathedral sound, close to nature, it's spiritual,” says Neville.
Barbara, the small town music entertainer from Nubeena, Tasmania, remembers the good old days of every week's community gatherings were around the piano and whatever music there was to be played. “We had apple sheds and at the end of the season, all the apple boxes were put up for seats. We used to dance our feet off”, says Barbara.
This documentary shows the rich history and cultural connection to pianos in Australia with the aim of keeping this traditional piano culture alive. Playing the traditional piano, sharing the love of listening to piano music and building a piano-lovers community are important to the cultural identity of Australia. The benefits of piano music are vast as it helps our souls to sing, the love of music to be shared in families and communities, people to heal, and our creative juices to flow. It is important for wider Australian society.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
Through the film, we hope to give our audiences a greater appreciation of the traditional acoustic piano and the motivation for the audience to help them be preserved and utilised within our communities. The documentary hopes to inspire more piano-lovers so that pianos are always a part of our living heritage and not a bygone chapter of history.
People may wish to financially donate to supporting ‘The Piano Orphanage’ so that storage and upkeep can be practically maintained. Other ideas are that philanthropists may wish to buy a year of piano lessons for those people who can’t afford it, and a piano from the piano orphanage could be donated along with the package, and transport costs covered to move the piano to their home. Digital videos and stories of their progress could be shared on the Pianos Forever website, to show donors where their money has gone.
One of Martin's clients, the choir group 'Sing Australia’ are refusing to use digital keyboards, saying that it lacks a soul in its sounds. We hope that 'Pianos Forever' can ignite a new fashion for playing acoustic pianos.
Pianos are now more available and affordable than ever. Martin and Tony’s piano orphanage have pianos to give to loving homes. There are hundreds of unwanted pianos being found on tip faces and op shops. If they are not found homes and looked after they too will fall into decay.
What is your education and outreach strategy?
The educational strategy involves a large community screenings complete with some live piano music and Question and Answers after the film with Martin, the filmmaker and other pianists and groups such as Sing Australia. There will be extensive media coverage promoting the events, utilization of social member and also more traditional networking means as older members of the community do not always access the internet.
Radio and television interviews with discussions about local piano history can be conducted. These events could encourage people to share their stories about pianos in their life and perhaps save an old piano still in the family. It might inspire someone to begin piano lessons and adopt an old piano.
Film audiences would include students and teachers at schools, musical venue subscribers, music teachers, community choirs, and aged care homes where music plays an important part in bringing memories and joy to older people. Australian Music Festivals might host film screenings as a part of their program. International Film Festivals should be interested in screening this film as many Australian pianos were imported from America, Germany and England. International audiences could see what happened to those instruments manufactured in their countries after they crossed miles of the ocean and ended up in remote corners of the Australian continent.
Statistics (by Australia Council Artfacts) are showing that Australians agree that playing an instrument is fun, a good way of expressing yourself, and gives a sense of accomplishment. 20 per cent of children learn to play music whilst 70 percent of adults wished they had learned. Increasingly parents are seeking an alternative to their children spending less time online and glued to computer games. More than 80 per cent of Australians believe our society is becoming a lonelier place, according to survey results released by Lifeline Australia. Figures are showing we spend an average of 46 hours of our weekly downtime looking at our TVs and digital devices.
'Pianos Forever' provides a solution for these societal problems. It can get young people and others engaged in learning and playing the piano. The piano has the ability to connect generations as older people can share their piano talents as well. This sense of a inter-generational bonding is highlighted at the Rigby's home in Malmsbury, Victoria, shown in the film’s trailer. Their Beale piano has been with them for three generations.