Seems like the month for asking for advice. Now that we are past the cymbal glare issue at our church, a new issue has come up that I could use some input on.
We are a contemporary worship church. Our sanctuary is a metal/stucco structure and all of our services are contemporary music based. We inherited a low quality baby grand piano from another United Methodist Church in the are that closed it's doors. We have a very accomplished keyboard player that has a dozen classical piano CDs out and plays all over north east Florida. Currently he is playing a combination of the old piano and a Korg Triton ProX 88 key keyboard. He started on the Triton and decided he could do a lot more on the piano and now generally plays the piano with one hand and the triton with the other, at the same time.
The problem now is that he plays very energetically which sounds amazing, but is taking it's toll on the piano and his hands. Also we don't have proper mics for the piano so it often gets lost in the sound mix. The piano goes out of tune quickly, he has to take it apart every few weeks to unstick keys that are starting to stick. His thumbs are starting to swell and the skin along the edge of his thumb nails seem to be starting to split. And he wants to start mentoring new team members to play pads on the Korg so he can focus more on piano runs and fills, and grow others in ministry via keyboard playing.
Our drummer works at Guitar Center and gets employee pricing. Our keyboard player came up with the idea last Sunday for him to sell our old mini grand piano wannabe on craigslist. He thinks he can get between $500 and $1000 for it. Take that money and invest it in an electronic piano like a Yamaha DGX 640 which we can get for about $600 from Guitar Center at the discounted pricing. The end result would be a wash and we could continue to grow others in ministry and he could better enhance our worship experience. It would never go out of tune and would go into the sound board for better control until our church can afford a quality grand piano and the proper mics. He sees the later as an $8000 to $14000 investment and something our church could not afford for many years. And he also feels other ministries could better use that kind of cash.
This has stirred a debate about real VS fake pianos in our non-worship people of clout. Like our pastor's wife. She loves the look and sound of a grand piano. A fake piano just isn't the same for her even if it sounds better. Our lead sound tech has always said he should just go back to playing only the Korg and be happy with that. it's easier for her to mix.
Our keys/piano player is a very creative and driven person. He has worked wonders raising the bar for everyone on our worship team. I can sense his frustration with the piano and his reluctance to limit himself just to the Korg. Our last keyboard player was also extremely talented and driven. Our current person is probably half again better than our last one. He is a true blessing. We lost our prior keyboard player from what we term Creative Artist Frustration Syndrome. His creativity became too stifled and he eventually moved on. I don't think we are at risk any time in the near future of losing our current keyboardist over this but I am starting to sense that same frustration starting to build.
I'm having a hard time trying to figure out how to justify that it doesn't make sense for us, at no cost, to swap our old failing piano for an electronic piano which will eliminate that frustration, be much easier to mix, allow us to have a better quality worship experience, and allow him to grow new team members in ministry.
So I guess the short questions are:
1) Is it a bad idea to swap a failing cheap no-name baby grand piano for an electronic piano?
2) What do you use?
3) What would you do in this situation?
I've only been exposed to "piano situations" specifically in Dallas Tx, Akron Oh, all parts Tennessee and Georgia. I don't know about Michigan, but in the places where I've been, the buildings weren't exposed to quite that much extreme. While they do heat and cool during the week, it's a little less "even" than Sunday.
Pete - even though you let the temperature go up a little during the week, I don't think it's enough kill a quality made modern piano. Plus, you guys should consider not letting it get too extreme. There is a tradeoff and people don't realize that keeping it running can actually save more than letting it go off and then having to catch up. Especially in Florida...
I agree with Stevo on this point - there are reasonably priced newer pianos which are really pretty good these days, and much more robust than they used to be a a few decades ago. You'd have to get a good make, though. Grand pianos are a more expensive, of course. Quality wise, I would have thought that a good upright would do the job, although the upright body of the piano can make visual contact harder, so has to be borne in mind when thinking where to put the piano. You can get a special set of wheels for uprights and grands to make moving them around much easier.
But the question of whether you'd get any other use out of it - or should I say, make any other use of it - is an important consideration.
Another important consideration is of course making use of the gifts (including people) which God has given you for the moment.
And btw, I didn't understand why your pianist's hands are suffering - is that because of the playing position while playing the piano and the keyboard both at the same time?
What I'm hearing is that some would be unhappy if we lost the look of the grand piano we have on stage now. So an upright probably wouldn't help much. He says his hands are hurting because of all the pianos he has to play on each week ours and one other is very stiff and hard to play. He plays very energetically and on our piano he has to pound the keys harder. After two back to back services on Sunday his thumbs are hurting. He is a powerhouse of a guy that never slows down. He teaches piano full time all week and plays gigs in the evenings and on weekends. Italian eateries, piano bars, etc. His hands get a real work out.
How about leaving the grand piano on the stage but with a new electric piano on top of it and the Korg at the side? You've got the look for those who are concerned about it but you've also got a great sounding keyboard giving you a piano sound you can hook into the main system. You aren't covering the cost by selling the old piano but you aren't that much down in a hole.
One of the areas that sounds like a key concern to me is that even this baby grand isn't loud enough for the current setting, which means it is being played too hard, causing damage to both the instrument and the player (and the instrument in question is stiff, which doesn't help matters). The issue of damage to the player is particularly important - even as an amateur musician, I am very careful about my hands because, even in the best case, damage needs rest to heal properly.
If, over time, people still make good use of the old piano, then perhaps there is an argument for seeing if there is anything which can be done to loosen the mechanism and fit it with mics so that it doesn't have to be hammered; if even the "out of service" users prefer to play on the electric piano, then you can return to the discussion with that evidence in hand.
So, that brings up another question. You are right in that the piano acoustic sound is getting lost in the mix of all the amplified instruments. We talked to our A/V company about getting it mic'ed and run into the sound board. They mic setup for the piano was $1,500. That is too much. We've tried placing an extra vocal mic under the hood pointed at the the place the hammers meet the strings in the range he play in the most. Not a great sounding solution. How can you properly mic a baby grand piano on a budget?
You probably want a PZM-type mic (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PZM_%28microphone%29). They aren't the cheapest of mics but $1,500 sounds way too much. Try $200 as a more reasonable sounding ball park figure (eg. http://www.zzounds.com/item--SHUMX392C). A quick search throws up another US-based site with even lower prices (http://www.fullcompass.com/category/PZM-PCC-Boundary-Surface-Microp...).
I'm not a PA expert but at my previous church we used a PZM type mic and just ran it into one of the channels on the stage box. I've no idea exactly what it cost but I'm sure it was closer to $200 (or less) than $1,500 as it was a smallish congregation and not abundantly rich.
It isn't quite as simple as poking a mic at the piano for an optimal response but it isn't that much complicated.
Thank you! If we end up acoustic this will make it much more useful.
Agreed - $1500 is silly and your sound guy was trying to make money. You can mic a piano with a Shure SM57 ($90) over standard XLR cable ($40) into your existing PA.
Wulf - the boundary mic that you mentioned would get overwhelmed in a piano. It's optimized for voice in conference rooms and lecterns Small diaphragm condensors have always been the professional solution for recording piano. But you don't need a condensor - just a good dynamic will do the trick. We use a Shure SM57 about one foot over the sound board (takes some adjustment to find the sweet spot) and it's quite natural sounding and never feeds back.
Why/how exactly are his hands being injured?
You say he is playing both the acoustic and the Korg but the injuries are on both hands?
That sounds like a technique problem. There is no way he should have that problem on an electric.
He doesn't always play both instruments at the same time. Depending on the song and effects he wants he will often play mostly on the piano with both hands then reach over to the Korg during part of a song to add some pads, bagpipes, strings, auxiliary percussion, etc. The two solutions he talked to me about were a) invest in a much better quality piano that plays well and mic it properly or b) get a quality digital piano that will play well, sound 95% like an acoustic, and not need mics or tuning. He felt that in our usage of the piano, the acoustics of the room, and our finances, that the digital piano was the better solution he would recommend for now. Selling the old piano would cover the cost of the new one so there would be no impact to the church finances which are pretty tight right now. He felt this was something we could do quickly and easily to solve an immediate problem. That's when the pastor got involved and said that his wife much prefers the natural sound of an acoustic baby grand and he thought some in the congregation did too. The reality of that is that we will probably stop playing the one we have and unless we run up on a really amazing deal, not be able to afford a used "quality" replacement that will solve our problems.
... but you've already told us that you can't hear it half the time. Does his wife prefer quieter services or is it the psycho-acoustic effect she is hankering after? That is a fairly pointed question but it might be worth checking that people really know what they are asking because it sounds like the current set up is actively dangerous to the pianist and that you don't have the budget to magic a "Carnegie Hall" solution out of the air.
That's a very good question. I'll probe that further. She likes hymns and choral music but also very much likes contemporary music and services. I think she doesn't like electronics. When we moved into our new worship space we upgraded our sound system. She was very much against anything digital. her feeling was digital soundboards don't product good sound so we had to get an analog sound board. That's the feeling I'm getting now, digital pianos doesn't produce accurate piano sounds. Not that we can hear the piano we have now. :-) She is a very nice person and wants the best for our church but is very much also a perfectionist and a bit OCD. It's not uncommon for her to rearrange all the chairs in the sanctuary 10 minutes before the service starts because she noticed that they were set up where the center isle was 6 inches off center of the altar table. So I have to try to balance her input to figure out what is really worth being concerned about and what is something that 5% or less of our congregation would ever notice.