This is one for geeks, musical or otherwise. Filmmaker John Korty (The Crazy Quilt, for those who are old enough to remember) spent two years documenting the rebuilding of a 1927 Steinway piano donated to U.C. Berkeley. In the mid-70s I built a Zuckermann harpsichord, and while that’s a lot simpler than a piano, I could truly relate to the craftsmen at Callahan Piano Service in Oakland who do this work. (Most of those in the film were at tonight’s screening along with Korty.)
The film is in Korty’s classic dry style. He just puts it out there. No glitter or gloss. The soundtrack includes parts of performances by the students who were competing to win the finished piano. It probably won’t bother most people, but I was distracted by the differences in audio between the close-mic’d interviews intercut with the distant-mic’d piano performances taped in Berkeley’s Hertz Hall. I’ve recorded there, and my guess is that they used just a pair of ceiling-hung mics. Nothing wrong with the quality. It just didn’t match the rest of the track.
I’m a Korty fan, but I wouldn’t recommend seeing Miracle in a Box: A Piano Reborn for the filmmaking. If you like machines, moving parts or musical instruments, see it for Callahan and the piano. You’ll probably have to track it down on DVD or watch the preview.