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June 25, 07

MMT #35 - South Africa Tour Part 5: Watts Up with Current Issues

Voltage conversion problems galore! I detail some of the problems and solutions for the digital musician converting electrical instruments from the U.S. to South African voltage. My Casio Privia PX-110, acting as a keyboard controller for my Pianoteq piano simulation program, finally gets a workout as demonstrated in two performances at a primary school in Hout Bay and a high school in Moessel Bay. Good thing, too - many of the pianos we encountered in our tour were either badly out of tune, broken, or altogether missing!


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June 23, 07

MMT #34 - South Africa Tour Part 4: All that have Life and Breath

Following an early morning worship service participation in St. Mark's Cathedral in the town of George, the CFS Choir Guys and i visit several game parks - Monkeyland and Cango Wildlife Ranch - we then settle down in Addo Elephant Park for a few days of game drives. We witness the lions in their own habitat up close and personal at the Schotia Safaris and live to tell the tale over a roaring Lapa fire and delicious buffet!


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June 22, 07

MMT #33 - South Africa Tour: In The Wild

After getting settled into our hotel and sorting out our bag issues, the CFS Choir and i finally hit the road and start our road trip eastward from Cape Town towards Port Elizabeth. First stop is - to our surprise - a shopping mega mall! Surprising because so many of us in the States have limited, pre-conceived ideas about what life in South Africa is like - seeing something this modern and so similar to something found at home took all of us completely by surprise!

After a delicious lunch at the mall, we then head out to explore Cango Caves, a beautiful rock formation rediscovered by Van Zyl in 1780.

Next, we visit an Ostrich Farm and have the opportunity not only to meet these fascinating birds up close, but also to try our hand at riding them! Yee-haw!!



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June 21, 07

MMT #32 - South Africa Tour, Part 2: Arrival

The CFS Boys' Choir and i arrive in Cape Town and immediately start a downtown tour of the Two Oceans Aquarium, a little rock shop, and a bayside shopping mall. Bag problems continue, and i describe how the South African voltage fries my digital piano plug! Our first concert at a school for the sight impaired couldn't be recorded due to our late arrival, but instead i feature a short clip of the school's own choir performance (that begins with a bang! Luckily, no injuries!)


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June 20, 07

Music Meets Tech #31: South Africa Tour, Part 1

I just returned from my tour of South Africa with the Church Farm School Boys' Choir! From Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and back, we performed under the direction of Gary Gress at schools and churches, taking in the amazing sights, wildlife, and warm hospitality along the way. Part 1 of this special series introduces Gary, the CFS school and choral program, and chronicles our departure from Philadelphia and layover in London en route to Cape Town.


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June 05, 07

A Tale of Two Services

A few blog posts ago, i wrote about two music teacher referral services - GetLessonsNow.com and ClickForLessons.com - based on the comments of another person on a different blog.

In response, I received the following comment from one of the co-founders of GetLessonsNow.com:

Hello Hugh,
I am one of the Co-Founders of GetLessonsNow.com and just wanted to let you know that I have responded to the concerns about our service raised on the Music Teachers Helper blog. As a bottom line to this I want to inform everyone that we no longer create the Google Local listings that were the focus of the complaint.
Kind Regards,
Brian Gilman
Co-Founder
GetLessonsNow.com
by: Brian Gilman (contact) - 31 May '07 - 11:14


..to which, i responded:

Hello Brian - thanks so much for taking the time to explain the positive change in your website's policies! I'll make a note in the blog article above to read your comment for clarification.
by: Hugh (contact) - 31 May '07 - 12:10


Today, i received the following comment from the CEO of ClickForLessons.com:

Hugh,
My name is Steven Cox, CEO of Click For, Inc. We own Click For Lessons. The information posted on your blog and on the cited source is 100% wrong. We do not list a users name/address with our phone number. We do not 'highjack' a user's profile data to display a users address. We do not circumvent an instructor's ability to market themselves in any way. It's our policy to encourage our instructors to utilize their own efforts and other services to find new customers.
For legal reasons, we ask that you correct your site and please check your references before posting these types of comments in the future. While we know of your personal relationship with the founder of PrivateLessons and thus have a personal interest in seeing negative comments posted about a PrivateLessons competitor, we ask that you refrain from unproven and unfounded comments regarding our business.
by: Steven Cox, CEO


First off, i applaud GetLessonsNow.com for their quick response to customer concerns and friendly manner of communication and clarification. Great service begets great business.

I apologize if i misrepresented the policies and practices of ClickForLessons.com - having no direct knowledge of their services myself, the blog i wrote was based solely on hearsay. Having said that, the manner in which this comment was posted virtually guarantees that if i ever return to private teaching, GetLessonsNow.com will be getting top consideration for my business, rather than ClickForLessons.com.

For the record, i have no personal interest or benefit in posting unwarranted negative comments about a PrivateLessons.com competitor. Rather, i'd love to see more of these types of services flourish as long as they provide a good product at a reasonable price with great customer service.


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The 68.4 pound question...

Getting ready to head out to South Africa today - i managed to locate and purchase a slim keyboard ATA case for my Casio PX-110 digital piano, putting my mind more at ease regarding the safety of my new digital piano in transit.


My Casio PX-110 snug in its new SKB slim keyboard ATA case


Given all the hassles of weight and linear restrictions for checked baggage, i used my digital scale to measure the weight of the Casio in its new case (first by stepping on the scale myself, then stepping on with me holding the case and subtracting the difference). Looks like i'll be coming just under the 70 pound limit, with my new keyboard+case coming in at 68.4 pounds. Linear dimensions come out to 61" wide, 21" deep, and 7.5" high - total of 89.5 (i'm hoping British Airways will have the same 100" limit that USAirways has...)

Gotta finish packing and taking the last shower for the next 30 hours of travel...here's hoping our BA ticket counter agent is friendly!



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June 04, 07

My Casio Privia PX-110 Damper Pedal Hack

As i mentioned in my previous post, the Casio Privia PX-110 Digital piano features a strange damper pedal that seems to have reverse polarity when using anything but their included footswitch. This is clearly an attempt to push a proprietary 3-pedal accessory by Casio (the SP-30) - more annoying than helpful, given that the SP-30 effectively anchors an otherwise svelte and portable instrument.

Thanks to John Lat's comment, it turns out that the workaround to adapt a standard damper pedal for the Privia is a lot simpler than i had anticipated, although it does involve some brutal surgery if you take my approach.

I started by opening up the casing for my M-Gear damper pedal to study the wiring. My first thought was to try to find some solder points to reverse the wiring, but given the cramped quarters and my lack of soldering experience, i decided to do the simple wire cut instead. With a handy wire cutter and stripper, i was able to take off the outer black rubber insulation and expose the two wire leads within:


Cutting the wire was the scary part - until i saw how simple the connections were!

Detail of the exposed wire leads, one red, the other white


Stripping off the insulation from the inside wires was tricky - you need to use a very gentle touch to start the incision, being careful not to cut into the inner wire. Once that was done, all you have to do is re-attach the wires connecting red to white, then white to red (or whatever opposing colors your pedal presents):


Twist together red to white, then white to red

Detail of the new connection


Once that's done, a little electrical tape helps insulate the exposed wired:


Using electrical tape to insulate the exposed wires

All taped up and ready to pedal!


And there you have it! Keep in mind, the pedal needs to be set to "switch" mode to work properly - if it's set to "continuous", you'll get the same reverse polarity problems you started with before the hack. Even though you don't get advanced pedal techniques enabled with this hack, at least you can get the "on/off" damper pedal effect with the proper foot orientation.

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The Case against Digital Pianos and the (Un)Friendly Skies

The most aggravating aspect of airline customer service to me is the inability to get straight facts the first time through. Initial calls to both British Airways and US Airways left me the impression that i would be just fine to check in my Roland RD-700SX snugly protected within it's brand new Road Runner 88-key ATA transport case, provided i heft over approximately $160+ in oversize and overweight fees while taking advantage of "musical instrument" provisions allowing me to transport the instrument -

My Roland RD-700SX snug in its Road Runner ATA case

The Road Runner 88-key ATA transport case


Due to a problem with pulling up my ticket info online for British Airways, i had to go through the travel agent in England - she subsequently found out that contrary to the information i had received State-side, i would NOT be able to transport my digital piano as checked baggage. The "musical instrument" provision is hogwash - there is an upper weight limit of 70 pounds for checked baggage, PERIOD. Since the Roland is 54 pounds and the ATA case is about 52 pounds, that would disqualify transport due to weight restrictions. The only flight options for my digital piano as-is would be via cargo transport. Problem is, it wouldn't arrive until the 11th of June, 5 days after the concert tour begins - for the jaw-dropping cost of $576. Sounds like a one-way trip to me...

Given the frustrating discovery of British Airways' transport policies, i gave US Airways a call to see if i had been similarly misinformed. Turns out i had - if memory serves correctly, the USAir agent stated that their upper weight limit is 80 pounds, with a total linear dimension limit (=Width + Depth + Height) of 100 inches. The ATA case was too large, and the entire package was too heavy. Another strikeout.

The ATA case had to be returned to Guitar Center for a refund. Given the uncertain piano situation in South Africa, i had to come up with another keyboard solution to ensure that i could practice during the two-week trip in preparation for all the upcoming activities in July. At first, a friend suggested that i use my old Roland A-30 keyboard controller, but given that it only has 66 keys, i wanted to see if there were any other compact 88-key solutions.

Turn out Sam Ash carries several compact 88-key controllers - the main difference between these and "regular" digital pianos is the lack of internal sound banks, their primary function being to connect to computers and/or separate external sound modules. The M-Audio 88es USB MIDI controller, for example, sports "semi-weighted keys" in a very svelte package - problem is, the keys feel way too flimsy, hardly different from a synthesizer touch.

I then saw a set of Casio Privia digital pianos, the slimmest 88-key models i've ever seen sporting a "fully weighted" keyboard action that actually felt pretty good - not as heavy as my Roland RD-700SX, but certainly WAY better than any MIDI controller action. Since i didn't need any of the fancy features of the higher end models, i went with the entry level PX-110 -


The Casio Privia PX-110 Digital Piano


The absense of extra pitch bend or controller wheels helps to keep the dimensions of this design to a bare minimum. I didn't bother to listen to the sound of this instrument, as i would be using it primarily as a controller for my Muse Receptor running Pianoteq, but at least there was a set of speakers built into the unit if i really need to listen to something on the fly.


Absence of extra side controllers keeps width to a minimum

Despite the stereo speakers, the minimal sound options keep depth to a minimum


Did i mention this keyboard is small? Given it's lack of depth from extra sound doo-dads and width from extra controller thingies, this 88-key piano can actually fit into a 76 key bag!


The 88-key PX-110 can fit into a 76-key bag!


This puppy is nice and light, too, coming it at around 24 pounds.

The PX-110 supports both Damper and Soft pedal functions (the soft pedal can be alternated with the sostenuto pedal via the direct hookup), but the damper pedal is a real drawback. The included pedal is a pretty flimsy looking on-off footswitch:


The included SP-3 damper pedal...if you can call that flimsy switch a "pedal"...


Problem is, if you try to use a standard damper pedal, the polarities are somehow reversed - leaving the pedal up keeps the notes sustained, pushing the pedal down stops the sustained effect - very, very aggravating. Apparently, if you want to use the "advanced half-pedal effect", you need to shell out more bucks for a very un-portable SP-30 3-pedal rack that's more suited for a fixed setup. If anyone knows how to hack a damper pedal quarter inch plug to reverse its polarity, i'd love to hear your solution...

Looks like the Casio Privia PX-110 fits the bill in weight, size, and functionality as a full-size keyboard controller in conjuction with a high-quality sound module. Now the trick will be to either find a way to pad the soft keyboard case adequately for check-in baggage transport, or to find a smaller ATA flight case that will fit airline regulations...

Stay tuned...

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Welcome!

Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!

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