Piano Drops

 

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Piano DropThe First Piano Drop

The consensus is that the first piano was dropped in November of 1972.

Bill Short made a movie short of the piano drop, which is on YouTube here: The First MIT Baker House Piano Drop (1972).  Bill writes:

"I used B&W because I could process the film in my dorm room quickly and cost-effectively and see the results right away.  I shot the film silent.  Synchronized sound equipment was not within the budget of a typical college student in those days.  Jean Ward did a bunch of audio interviews during the event, so I used that audio.  I got Kevin Struhl, who lived in the room next-door, to improvise some piano music."

Kevin Struhl writes:

"... I remember the weather was pretty nice.  I don't think I was on the roof but I do remember seeing it.  My major memory of the music was ending with the last lines of Chopin's Revolutionary Etude, which ends with two dramatic final chords.  You can barely hear that at the very end of the video.  I didn't remember that Charlie Bruno was the instigator until looking at the website, although I can certainly believe it; I knew him pretty well and was saddened to hear of his death."

Edward D. Weinberger writes: 

"I cut a class in complex analysis to pick up the piano w/ my van some ways from campus.  Norman Levenson, then the dept chair, was teaching it that semester."

 


 

Where did all the pianos come from?

Dave Mock writes:

Steve [Leighton, a tutor from 1973 until 1976], began a campaign to find free or inexpensive pianos offered in the newspaper, then rent a trailer, and go pick them up and fix them, with the goal of having a (working) piano on every floor.  He was mostly successful, and the leftovers fueled the piano drops nicely.

 

 


 

When did they move Amherst Alley?

In 1984, Amherst Alley was moved, forcing the temporary suspension of piano drops.

 


 

Piano drops are held irregularly for the next twenty years...

 


 

http://tech.mit.edu/V128/N21/pianodrop.html

Another Drop Date, Another Piano Drop

By Nick Bushak
NEWS EDITOR
April 25, 2008

Piano Drop has been held irregularly since the initial drop in 1972. The tradition, which commemorates Drop Date, returned in 2006 after a seven year hiatus, and it has been held annually since then.

 


 

http://tech.mit.edu/V129/N21/piano.html

Annual Baker House Piano Drop Commemorates Spring Drop Date

By Aditi Verma
April 24, 2009

 

A 500 pound piano played its last song yesterday evening after it was launched off Baker House’s roof during the annual Piano Drop, which commemorates the spring term deadline for dropping classes.

A crowd of about 200 gathered for this year’s drop. Watchers began gathering half an hour before the piano’s scheduled demise, including some students eager to delay long nights of work that lay ahead: “I’m going to be up p-setting all night. The piano drop made my day,” said Pedro A. Figueroa ’12.

...

Piano Drop has been held irregularly since it was started by former Baker resident Charles Bruno ’74 in 1972. It has happened annually since 2006. Before that, it had been discontinued for some years due to safety concerns. This year spectators were made to stand back to avoid contact with any flying piano debris. 

 


 

 

noah's picture

On "where did all the pianos come from"

I was in Baker from 1970-1974. Sometime around fall of 1972 I bought a cheap ($60 I think) and very mediocre upright from someone in Cambridge. I remember we borrowed a car, rented some sort of U-Haul trailer (open I think), and a bunch of us went up to get it. I'm pretty sure we destroyed the seller's deck rail as we were bringing it down the stairs, said "oh, gee, sorry about the railing" and left with the piano in the trailer.  The piano lived under my built up bed in 237 that year, and I think I may have put it in the 6th floor hall senior year.
 
Anyway, sometime before graduating in 1974, I either gave or sold it cheap to someone else (I don't remember who, but have a vague recollection that it was a female MIT student). In giving it away cheap/free I made one stipulation: the piano was to be played, not to be destroyed.
 
As far as I know, it was the second one dropped, shortly after I graduated.
 

Piano Falls, Massachusetts

Piano Falls, Massachusetts

by Paul Lojeski

Forwarded by Ed Friedman (Baker House and Course VIII '57)

 
They tossed a piano off the roof in ’72,
Baker House boys goofing around
in holy camaraderie.
 
Not the normal spoof absent scientific
regard or history’s rough gaze, though.
These MIT lads were seekers not fakers.
 
They sought calculations of speed to height
and the  impact dimensions of the fall
in that failing light.
 
Of course, the crowd cheered, whooping up
a jolly good undergraduate time and, yes,
perhaps a libation or two boldly appeared
 
as heads got thrown back, watching the piano
sail free, the only flying piano on this crazy
planet whipping through space.
 
But then gravity grabbed hold, dashing the old
upright down, splattering and splintering it
upon that sacred ground.
 
Its destruction made a glorious sound,
and a buoyant cheer shook the site.  Thankfully,
no acolytes were wounded by flying debris
 
and the mess was cleaned up in minutes, appeasing
the authorities rushing wildly around.  Thus, the Baker
House boys birthed a legend amidst madness
 
and mayhem that to this day mystifies and amuses,
now, one of MIT’s secret joys, the magic
of ivories in flight.
 

first piano drop

I was a freshman when the first piano drop occurred.
Took some pictures back then, that I found in a box, cleaned up with PhotoShop, and posted on Flickr.  
http://www.flickr.com/photos/43358664@N05/sets/72157622425128001/
(Didn't see how to post photos onto the site, but would be happy to do so, or to send to some to do so.)  The three photos show:

  • the piano hitting the street
  • the hole left by the piano (as mentioned above)
  • the hole being filled almost immediately after the drop (taken from our triple on the 2nd floor)

I remember this was described at the time as the "first" piano drop, and Charlie Bruno was credited as the leader of the project.  My photos had a hand-written date of "10/72" on the back of the photos, but its possible they were taken in early November.  (Those first few months at MIT were a blur in any case!)
I remember the Physical Plant people showed up to fill in the hole right away.  As you can tell by the lighting in the photos, they arrived probably within 15-20 minutes of the piano landing. This probably was the fastest they'd ever responded to a request to repair anything!
I had a piano hammer from the drop that I kept around for years.  For all I know, it could still be in a box in a closet some where.
There were subsequent drops in later years, but I don't remember much about them.  I don't remember any photos of them.
Peter Rigsbee

Early piano drop recollections

When I skimmed the Piano Drops page and saw how many recollections and accounts there were, I decided to capture and post my own *before* contaminating my memories with other accounts.  I participated in a couple early drops, so I may conflate events from more than one event.  Enough qualifiers…
 
I arrived on campus for rush week ’71, and met Bill Blum working the Baker desk.  We immediately hit it off, and I fell in with his crew of upperclassmen and was invited to join their block for the room assignment lottery.  Blum was room assignment chairman, and with his #1 room lottery number and Andy Celentano’s #2 as house president, we secured a string of rooms on either side of my room #231 (supposedly the first pi single ever for a Baker freshman).  Under the guidance of these wise tutors, I began a wonderful and unexpected education in delinquency. Since our group regularly tended to get into trouble, it was natural to have one of us to run for Judcom.  I ran in 1972 and was elected.  I was off and running as a greasy student politician.
 
When I'd arrived at Baker, there were two dead pianos in the Master Suite Lounge.  At a house meeting someone suggested we get them fixed.  Someone else arranged to get an estimate.  It turned out that one piano had a broken soundboard and was basically worthless.  The other was in almost as dire shape and would have cost more than it was worth to have it fixed.  Even disposing of the pianos was going to cost some money.  I researched prior years’ house meeting minutes, and it turned out that folks had gone around this same loop at least a couple times without any action being taken. 
 
My Baker cohorts were not cut from that kind of cloth. I no longer recall who had the original idea of throwing the more broken of the two pianos off the roof to make the pieces more disposable, but it was Charlie Bruno who embraced this Holy Mission and whipped the masses into a suitable frenzy. The motion passed; the piano was doomed.
 
On the appointed day, we dragged the piano into the elevator, down the 6th floor hall to the west-central stairwell and onto the roof.  Charlie had his hardhat on for the occasion.  I was participating “as a Judcom representative, to assure safety and preserve order”.  As the moment for the toss approached and crews on the ground secured a safe landing zone, a campus policeman showed up on the roof.  The piano went up on the parapet, and as we were getting ready to shove, the campus cop said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”  The policeman’s duty duly performed, we gave the piano a push, and it sailed off into history.  I gotta say, it was a major adrenaline rush for this 19 year old!
 
The piano left a small (6”/side) pyramidal ding in Amhurst Alley.  People dragged off the pieces, and in a few minutes, the roadway was almost clean. Within a ½ hour of impact, a guy arrived from Physical Plant with a wheelbarrow and blacktop patch and patched the impact crater.  He didn’t fill any of the other car-swallowing potholes in the Alley, just the piano crater.
 
I recall participating in a similar ritual with the second piano, though of course this time everyone knew what was happening.  For the third, an off-campus piano was procured.  It was one of these later occasions when someone took a video of the drop.  While I’m delighted that future generations of Bakerites have continued this piano drop tradition, I hope to hear someday of a wild new Baker hack that has “left its mark”.
 
I can’t resist telling one more Charlie Bruno story.  My dad and I used to stay during deer season with a northern Minnesota farmer.  I learned his wine recipe: one 12oz can of Welch’s frozen grape juice, one quart sugar, an envelope of Fleishman’s yeast and the rest water, mixed into a gallon jug with a balloon on top and left in a warm room for a few weeks.  When I headed home for the holidays freshman year (1971), I mixed up a batch, opened the radiator steam valve in my room (Baker 231), and left.  When I returned in January, I decanted and found the wine well fermented but undrinkable.  Still, I couldn’t waste it so I did some experiments.  I found that mixing in raspberry Kool-Aid made a concoction that tasted remarkably like Gallo Spanada, a cheap flavored jug wine.  I still couldn’t drink it and I found no other takers until one night Charlie wandered into my room and I offered him a swig.  “Hey, this is good!”, he said and spent the next hour and a half polishing off 2+ quarts of the stuff while we chatted.  He got happily hammered and staggered off to his room and had a bit of a headache the next day.  I don’t think he drank that very often, but when he did, it was like everything else he did, with enthusiasm and exuberance.
 

Re:Early piano drop recollections

After submitting my recollections I went ahead and read the other commentaries and looked at the video, as well as the the 1972 and 1973 house meeting and execom minutes.  It was unclear to me what the actual date of the 1st drop really was, and whether the video on Youtube dated Nov 1972 is of the 1st or 2nd drop.  The appended data gleaned from house meeting and execom minutes could help support piano-drop dates/chronology.  Pretty clearly, the piano toss was in-play at least as an idea by Oct 8, 1972, and by March 6, 1973 the first one had been tossed.  So Nov 1972 is plausible, but some details of the video don't seem to jive with various recollections of the first drop. 
 
Snippets form the scanned archives:
Execom minutes for [unreadable..] 8, 1972 say, "Appropriate money for piano (Finally, the keyboard freaks of Baker get what they've wanted for the last infinite years.)"
May 11,1972 house meeting announcement poster and minutes both ask the question, "Do we want to buy a real working piano?".
May 15, 1972 meeting agenda asks: "PIANO: Should we buy a new one / buy a used one / fix the old one? Motion to table indefinitely passed [infinity] -- 2."  However he facilites budget on the next page includes $600 for a piano.  
Oct 8, 1972 Execom minutes include the following: "Andy [Celentano] also mentioned that nothing, repeat, absolutely nothing must ever, ever be thrown out of the windows. Even something as small as a match could potentially be very dangerous and harmful. However, a special exception to the above rule covers the throwing of pianos out the window)".  [Does this mean the toss was being considered?  Or already fait accompli?]
Nov 5, 1972 Execom minutes state: "Announcements: The piano will be fixed starting in about three weeks." 
Dec 13, 1972 house meeting minutes say, "$600 piano already appropirated, but not spent". 
March 6, 1973 Execom minutes include the cryptic lines, " We then had reports from all officers. Highlights were: last year were: ...Andy reported, 'Coed living really started off with a bang.' Baker house Piano."  [Clearly the 1st piano had been tossed.]
March 12, 1973 Execom minutes say, "We put the subject of the piano on the agenda and moved to pay $600 for it when it is finally repaired. Passed 8--0-1."
March 21, 1973 Execom minutes show a proposed budget that does not have funds for a piano/repair. I don't recall that the piano was actually repaired. Nov 4, 1973 execom minutes say, "'The piano may be tuned in mid-November."
Anyone is welcomed to try to weave this all together.
 
And no, I don't have too much time on my hands.  But I do retain my youthful tendency to be distracted by interesting trivialities in the face of oppresive deadlines.  Maybe because of oppresive deadlines.  Back to work!!
 
/Bill

first piano drop

I seem to recall that for the first piano drop, Charlie Bruno's piano was in Pete Materna's dorm room, and Pete was pretty upset about losing a piano that he was pretty happy to be using. But it was Charlie's piano, so that decided it. I also seem to recall that the immediate motivation was some kind of strobe project requirement for Doc Edgerton's course, which some people took as an easy way to satisfy the lab requirement. The piano might actually have been Jack Cass's, not Charlie's. I'd be happy to be corrected on any and all of this -- some might be rumors I heard years ago and assumed were facts. But I think maybe I spoke personally with Pete about this.

Ken Rosato writes...

One of the most endearing subjects relating to Baker House is the piano drop, the first of which occurred in my junior year, although I missed it, being on a Boston-bound plane on the afternoon it took place. Everywhere one looks, credit is given to Charlie Bruno for starting it. Charlie (may he rest in peace) was a good friend of mine, and he was involved in all kinds of antics, but he was not alone in initiating the piano drop.  It was more or less decided by acclamation (and possibly Charlie came up with the idea first) at a party in the basement lounge where the piano was located.  Very key to the plan was the original harangue by Andy Celentano, who was a very good keyboard player, as to how lousy the piano was, and not worth getting fixed.  But history is written by the victors, and good old Charlie was inseparable with planned and unplanned mayhem, so it is probably fitting that if only one name is connected with the subject, it is his.

 

More memories of Charlie Bruno (From Ken Rosato)

 
Charlie Bruno's Great Baker House Elevator Adventure

In my junior year we lived on the second floor of Baker House, near the elevator, and ended up learning all sorts of interesting things about it, like how to make it skip floors, how to ride on top of it, etc. So it became kind of a personal playground. At one point, there was some sort of silly game going on where one would stuff a sofa cushion under a shirt like a baseball umpire's chest protector, and run into the wall. Then it evolved into running into the (closed) elevator door. After watching this develop, Charlie Bruno decided to give it a try. Charlie was fairly tall and strong, and not the sort to hold back on anything, so he launched himself into the elevator door with particular enthusiasm. Apparently he pushed the door slightly into the elevator shaft, so when the elevator came up from below, it caught the door and ripped the inner half of it completely off. Since there was only one elevator in the dorm, and it took several weeks, if not more, to get it fixed, Charlie was ordered to do all heavy lifting for anyone who lived above the first floor, which was probably close to 300 people. And so he did.

1972 Piano drop history

A few years back I was mis-creditted on a web page with having instigated the
original piano drop. I corrected this with the following, emailed note,
consisting of my recollections of the event (which was led by Charlie Bruno).

>
>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>Date: Fri, 22 Apr 2005 09:47:27 -0500 (CDT)
>From: mf@patlxmf.fnal.gov
>To: Martijn Stevenson <martijn@MIT.EDU>
>Cc: David C Huang <huang@mit.edu>, tom_w@mit.edu,
>      Mark Fischler <mf@patlxmf.fnal.gov>
>Subject: Re: Baker House Piano Drop History
>

I can verify 100% that Charley Bruno led the first piano drop project.  I
did not "start it" though I am proud to have participated in a minor way.

At a house meeting, we were discussing ways to raise money and somebody
mentioned a frat having sold the right to take whacks at an old car for $1
each.  Somebody then said that's how we should get rid of our old piano, and
then Andy, our house president, pointed out that we had no suitable back yard
to do this in.  Another person (I think it may have been Bob Keener '75)
suggested that we should toss it out the window instead, to which Andy replied
that he was pretty sure there was a rule in the student handbook against
throwing objects out of dorm windows.

At that point, Charley Bruno stood up and bellowed

"Let's throw it off the roof.  There's nothin' in the handbook about throwing
things off dorm roofs.  I checked."

Andy assigned a committee to dig out a student handbook; 4 copies were
produced within about a minute (I suspect some people had this planned
from the start) and after or parliamentarian verifyed that indeed there
was no explicit rule against it, the chair accepted a motion from the floor
(from Bruno) to

"with all due haste toss that friggin' piano off the roof."

Amendments were accepted to add "of Baker House" and "after making sure it
is safe" (or something to that effect), at which point the motion passed
with no opposition (people were ready to cart any opposing votes off to the
showers) and Andy appointed Charley Bruno to head the committee to accomplish
this.

If memory serves, it was about a month before the planning came to fruition on
a beautiful Spring day; April 22 is consistent with the date but it could not
have been the 21st, I think, because I remember it as a weekday.  Charley made
arrangements with security; somebody computed how far off we would need to
cordon off the crowds for safety (a little known fact - the piano was de-tuned
before drop-off because nobody could compute the likely debris range with the
wires at full tension and come up with a reasonable watching radius)  Charley
build a little ramp on the roof, others painted things on the piano (watch
out for falling objects on the bottom, help I'm trapped in a piano on the
side, etc.) and some people were assigned roles as crowd monitors and others
as verification monitors (my role was to watch from the third story window
and verify that the piano actually moved down rather than up, for example).
Charley informed local news and everything was set.

At the key juncture, with the crowd chanting "throw it off, throw it
off", security appeared to change its mind about allowing the event,
and the captain started visibly arguing with Charley on the roof, at
which point the chant morphed to "throw him off, throw him off."  Finally
whatever hitch had come up was resolved, the captain (who was a great guy,
by the way) waved his hands and tromped off the roof (the easy way), I ran
up to my window station, and the blocks stopping the piano were removed.

I'm told the piano wheels were so stiff it took quite a few seconds before
the thing finally exited the ramp and fell to its death.  Five measurements
were taken that I am aware of (there were probably more):

1) Six monitors verified that the piano did indeed go downward.  One said up,
    but by acclaim this was rejected as an outlier.

2) Two time-keepers measured the time of flight, and arrived at values of
    9.1 and 9.2 m/s^2 for g.

3) A music major declared the final chord to be Am7.  This was not
    universally accepted.  To the best of my knowledge, the sound meter
    measuring the integrated volume failed.

4) I personnally caught one piano hammer on its the way up after the
    landing.  One other entered the window.  Nobody caught or found
    any at the 4th floor (Bob was there).  A couple of frosh snarfed up
    keys and hammers at the 2nd floor; it was later determined that freshmen
    don't count so this didn't happen.

5) The seminal measurement - Charley measured the volume excavated in
    asphalt by an upright piano dropped from the roof of a six story building.
    That volume (something like .89 of a liter, I think) was christened as
    1.0 Bruno - in the spirit of the Smoot as a measure of distance.

That weekend, the Baker House snack bar had a special on 1 Bruno milk shakes.

Contrary to a rumor spread around, people did not wheel 3 pianos to the site
one evening about a week later for a memorial service.  At least, I saw no
such service.

Mark Fischler

 

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