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Steinway documentary hits right note

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Steinway factory in Queens, N.Y., as seen in "Note By Note."

Steinway factory in Queens, N.Y., as seen in “Note By Note.”

Ben Niles, Plow Productions

NOTE BY NOTE: THE MAKING OF STEINWAY L1307 — **** — Documentary feature about the creation of a concert grand piano; not rated, probable G (nothing offensive)

"Note By Note: The Making of Steinway L1307" doesn't need any cameos by celebrities, musical or otherwise, to hold our interest.

In fact, it does exactly that with precious few bells and whistles. Just watching a series of exacting craftsmen spend painstaking months to turn lumber into a musical work of art is a fascinating process.

Still, it doesn't hurt to have some testimonials from classical musicians Helene Grimaud and Harry Connick Jr., who practically sing the virtues of the estimable Steinway & Sons company and its products.

And besides, it means we get a closing-credits sequence in which Grimaud performs a Rachmaninoff piece.

First-time filmmaker Ben Niles was given considerable access to the factory floor in Queens, N.Y. Niles and his four-man camera crew are there to watch the creation of a piano that's designated #L1307.

In 2004, Niles and the other cinematographers filmed months' worth of footage, which includes the initial assembly of the frame, the installation of its sound board and keyboard, and both the first and final tuning of the completed piano.

They also follow concert pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who tests each of the grand pianos stored in the Steinway showcase to see which of them he wants to use for a scheduled performance at Carnegie Hall.

(This turns out to be a very exacting process, and both Aimard and the all-too-patient floor manager who accommodates his numerous requests appear to have frayed nerves by the time it's done.)

The interviews segments are just as good as the film's main body. Niles notes that the craftsmen working on the piano, such as final tone inspector Wally Boot, are talented musicians in their own right.

And again, using the seemingly impromptu Grimaud performance for the closing-credits ends the film on the right note.

Special credit also needs to be given to sound recordists Nara Garber and Valery Lyman and sound effects editor Matt Snedecor. This film sounds every bit as good as it looks.

"Note By Note: The Making of Steinway L1307" is not rated but would probably receive a G. It contains nothing offensive. Running time: 80 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com