Mason & Hamlin – Chapter 29

Chapter 29 told a short history of the Mason & Hamlin piano company, with stories of several Mason & Hamlin pianos that I have serviced over the years. I mentioned that world-class Mason & Hamlin pianos are being produced again at a factory in Haverill, Massachusetts. Here is a link to their website:


There are remarkably informed people offering seminars for members of the Piano Technicians Guild. One of the seminars I attended explained the difference in piano tone that results from differing piano soundboard and bridge designs. Mason & Hamlin pianos are valued for their resonance and long-lasting tone, whereas some other brands are valued for their sudden, bright, and loud tone. If the designer of a piano wants a loud sound and does not care if the sound sustains, then the appropriate design would use a narrow bridge and a thin soundboard. If the designer wants a long-lasting tone, then the design would require a slightly thicker soundboard and a wider bridge with more mass. Most often a designer would choose something in the middle to get the most possible of both qualities.

If you are not familiar with soundboard and bridge design, the bridge is the connection between the soundboard and the strings. If you have a grand piano, or have access to one, you can see the bridge at the far end of the strings, away from the keyboard. The strings are securely attached to the bridge, so they will not cause unwanted vibrations, and to make sure the vibration of the strings gets communicated to the soundboard, the large piece of wood which amplifies the sound.

“If Music be the Food of Love, Play on.”

Lou was a light-hearted freelance tenor performing in Boston and New York. He was always a lot of fun to be around. His favorite saying came from Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on.”


He grew up in Martha’s Vineyard in an extremely wealthy household on West Chop. He said it gave him a different point of view than most people. People often believe that if their present challenge would be solved, that they would never have a problem again. He would say that life is problems, or the solving of problems. Lou reported that wealthy people have problems with their servants. Everyone has problems to solve, so personal peace comes with resolving that one will always have problems to solve.


He sang very well, but by his own admission the limiting factor for his career was his poor time management. He would frequently leave his residence at the time he was supposed to arrive for a performance, forgetting about the time needed for travel. He told me of a performance of Handel’s Messiah, where he was the tenor soloist who was to open the performance singing, “Comfort Ye, my People.” Lou would joke that it was, “Come for Tea.” He had sung it numerous times, as it is a “bread and butter” number for a tenor soloist.


For this performance, the director had reached his limit of tolerance for Lou’s poor time management. When Lou had not arrived at the advertised start time, the director started the overture even though Lou had not arrived. The overture completed and Lou was still not there, so the director began the introduction to “Comfort Ye, my People.” Lou heard that music as he entered the back of the church. He walked as rapidly as he could down one of the side aisles as he removed his scarf and overcoat and left them on pews as he passed by. He went up the stairs to the stage and reached the podium perfectly in time to sing, “Comfort Ye. Comfort ye, my people.”


Lou frequently sang for the Boston Opera, directed by Sarah Caldwell. She especially liked him, because he worked out and could do dramatic things on the stage. If she ever needed anyone to climb a tower wall, Lou was her man.


Lou’s workouts proved the end of him. He was in New York on a 105 degree day and he went for a run in the middle of the day. When a person is overheated, their blood pressure can skyrocket. Lou’s pressure was enough to blow through a thin portion of a brain artery, killing him almost instantly. It was termed an “aneurism.” He was 36 years old.


His funeral and burial were on Martha’s Vineyard, and our ferry arrived late. We didn’t make it to the funeral, but the burial was on a beautiful hill overlooking the ocean. He was laid to rest under a tombstone that read, “If music be the food of love, play on.”