19 December 2018 - STEINWAY AND SONS – PIANOS


G'day folks,

Ever wondered who made the famous Steinway pianos? Read on ...

If you were to guess what the most intricate thing being made in America today is, chances are you wouldn’t imagine that it’s a piano. Almost entirely still hand made and assembled in Queens, New York after 160 years, Steinway pianos are known the world over. Lesser known, is the fact that Steinway & Sons shaped the history of Queens when they created an entire utopian village out of the marshlands we now call Astoria. At the Steinway factory, where a combination of decades old machines, and new, cutting-edge ones are still producing a 1000 instruments a year, discover the remarkable history of the family that made so much more than just pianos.

Walking into the elegant Steinway factory in Astoria, one of the first things you notice is what is missing– the sound of a piano. What does hit you however is the smell of sawdust, and the distant sounds of sanding, delicate hammering and wood being sawn. It’s more like walking into a master craftsman carpenter’s guild in old Europe rather than a modern factory in Queens.

It takes half a dozen careful hands to gently coerce the wood into the shape of a grand piano, using presses invented by Steinway & Sons themselves. The making of the rim is just the beginning of a journey from the lumberyard, to trimming the wood, making the bridge, notching, stringing, key weighing, regulating the action before being sent to the pounding room, where the piano is first played and endlessly tweaked to ensure perfection, before the case is finished. The entire process takes nearly a year.

Often, the secret techniques used to make a Steinway are passed down in the age old tradition from master craftsman to apprentice, generation after generation. Each stage of making the piano has the creator’s name written on it. Story has it that one old Steinway sent to Astoria for renovation was taken apart, only for one of the craftsmen to see his grandfather’s name chalked on part of the piano that been hidden from view since it was written there decades before. 

The company had a remarkably humble beginning. An illiterate orphan from Wolfshagen, Germany called Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg started as a carpenter and cabinet maker. He began making his own instruments, particularly pianos, before migrating with his family to New York in 1850. He changed his name to Henry Steinway, creating Steinway & Sons the same year.From 1996 through 2013 the company traded on the stock exchange under the ticker symbol LVB, which stood for Ludwig van Beethoven. In 2013, the company was acquired and taken private by current owner Paulson & Company.

When the younger Henry Steinway reported on his first day at work to his father, he was told: “Henry, I am glad you are here. You are going to get a start where I did.” Henry, initially ecstatic, was soon puzzled as his father led him to the basement where he stopped by the maintenance foreman’s office, laconically stating “he’s yours” and walked away.

In 1866, Henry Steinway’s son William opened Manhattan’s grandest music venue. ‘Steinway Hall’ was four stories tall, faced in immaculate white marble, and designed by the Steinway’s themselves without hiring architects. It could house a full orchestra, had seating enough for 2,500 people, and was adorned with gas lighting throughout.

 It became New York’s principal concert hall, home to the New York Philharmonic and was also used for public events such as lectures by Charles Dickens when he first came to America. Cleverly, concert goers had to walk through the showrooms en route to their seats, passing by the range of Steinway pianos for sale. As William Steinway remarked, “one concert on Saturday night sells pianos on Monday morning.”


Clancy's comment: Amazing, eh? Where are the old crafts of yesteryear?

I'm ...

18 December 2018 - MEGHAN MARKLE


G'day folks,

We've just had Prince Harry and his lovely wife visit us in Australia for the Invictis Games. What an impressive duo they are, but who is Meghan Markle?

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is a retired American actress who became a member of the British royal family upon her marriage to Prince Harry. Markle was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and is of mixed-race heritage. 

Who Is Meghan Markle?

Born on August 4, 1981, in Los Angeles, California, Meghan Markle pursued a career as a screen actress, appearing in a number of TV series before landing the recurring role of Rachel Zane on the USA Network show Suits. Markle was the subject of international headlines in 2016 upon the revelation of her romance with Prince Harry of Great Britain. The two announced their engagement late the following year and married on May 19, 2018. Markle also ran the lifestyle blog The Tig from 2014 to 2017.

Romance with Prince Harry

Previously best known for her role on the TV series Suits, Markle made international headlines when it was revealed in 2016 that she was seriously dating Prince Harry of Great Britain. The two met while Harry was attending the Invictus Games in Toronto, where Suits is filmed. Much speculation ensued about the direction of their romance, with Markle becoming the most Googled actress of 2016 as a result of the relationship. Yet some of the scrutiny was toxic, with Kensington Palace issuing a statement calling for the couple’s privacy to be respected and pointing out the indecency of racist and sexist online trolling directed at the actress.

 On November 27, 2017, Markle and Prince Harry revealed that they had secretly gotten engaged earlier in the month. Among the congratulatory messages, Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, said, "It has been wonderful getting to know Meghan and to see how happy she and Harry are together." 

A few weeks later, Kensington Palace announced that the royal wedding would take place May 19, 2018, in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. The news came shortly after Google's announcement that Markle had topped the year-end rankings for most searched actress for the second year in a row, finishing only behind fired TV personality Matt Lauer for 2017's most Googled person. On December 21, fans found another reason to hit their search engines with the release of the couple's official portrait photographs.

In January 2018, it was confirmed that Markle was adhering to royal tradition by shutting down her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Through Kensington Palace, Markle said she was "grateful to everyone who has followed her social media accounts over the years."

On February 10, more details about the royal wedding emerged: After the marriage ceremony, scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. U.K. time, the newlyweds will ride in a carriage along the High Street through Windsor Town, before returning to Windsor Castle along the Long Walk. Later, following an afternoon break, Prince Charles will host a private evening reception.

Markle made headlines by breaking royal protocol — albeit in adorable fashion — during a visit to Birmingham on International Women's Day in March 2018. Introduced to a 10-year-old student, who told the soon-to-be princess that she wanted to become an actress, Markle gave the girl a hug, violating the handshake-only rule in place for the royal family.

 News soon leaked that the couple would not sign a prenuptial agreement before the big day, despite their hefty individual assets. Insiders pointed to the lack of prenup enforcement in U.K. courts, as well as Prince Harry's steadfast belief that the marriage would be a lasting one.

In late March, it was reported that the duchess-to-be and her family would receive a specially designed coat of arms from Kensington Palace before the wedding. Markle's father, a U.S. citizen residing in Mexico, reportedly needed to prove one of his ancestors was a subject of the Crown in order to receive his gift. Markle's coat of arms was expected to be completed in time to feature on the souvenir program for the royal wedding, with elements from that design and Prince Harry's to be incorporated into the coats of their future children.

  On May 19, 2018, the couple married at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. She wore a dress designed by Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy. Shortly before the wedding, Queen Elizabeth conferred Meghan with the title of Meghan, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex.

On October 15, 2018, Markle and Prince Harry announced that they're expecting their first child in Spring 2019. "Their Royal Highnesses have appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public," Kensington Palace said in a statement.

 Life as the Duchess of Sussex


Following the wedding, the couple attended a birthday party for Prince Charles before heading off for their honeymoon. It was then on to more formal activities, with Meghan making her Buckingham Palace balcony debut at the Trooping the Colour ceremony on June 10.

Two days later, Kensington Palace announced plans for Meghan and Harry's first royal tour: "The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will undertake an official visit to Australia, Fiji, the Kingdom of Tonga, and New Zealand in the Autumn," read the announcement. "Their Royal Highnesses have been invited to visit the Realms of Australia and New Zealand by the countries’ respective governments. The Duke and Duchess will visit the Commonwealth countries of Fiji and Tonga at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office."

Background and Early Career

Meghan Markle was born on August 4, 1981, in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Doria, a clinical therapist and yoga instructor, and Thomas, a television lighting and photography director. 

When she was 11, Markle wrote a letter to various notables, including then First Lady Hillary Clinton, about a TV advertisement featuring the idea of women being bogged down by greasy cookware. The youngster deemed the ad sexist when male classmates started yelling, upon seeing the commercial, that the kitchen is where women belonged. (The language of the ad was subsequently changed.) Markle went on to study theater and international relations at Northwestern University School of Communication, graduating in 2003.

  In 2002 Markle landed her first TV role with a guest spot on General Hospital, and she went on to appear in a number of other series that included Cuts, The War at Home, CSI: NY and 90210. As a biracial actress, Markle would eventually talk about the challenges of navigating Hollywood’s check-a-box casting landscape while also finding her voice as an actress. 

 Starring Role in 'Suits'


In 2011, Markle had her big break, landing the role of paralegal Rachel Zane on the USA network series Suits, co-starring Gabriel Macht, Patrick J. Adams and Gina Torres. The legal drama centers on the shifting intrigues of a Manhattan corporate law firm, with the savvy Zane attending Columbia Law School to pursue her own dreams of becoming an attorney. The show became a top performer among USA Network’s scripted programs and began taping its seventh season in 2017, though the network announced that Markle would be leaving the program following the news of her engagement to Prince Harry.

Markle has done big-screen work as well, appearing in such films as Get Him to the Greek (2010), Horrible Bosses (2011) and Anti-Social (2015), as well as the TV movies When Sparks Fly (2014) and Dater’s Handbook (2016).

 Personal Life

Markle dated producer Trevor Engelson for several years before the couple married in 2011. They divorced two years later. 

Markle has a number of passions that include yoga (following in the footsteps of her mother), calligraphy and cuisine. She is also an essayist and has written for Elle UK, and ran her own lifestyle blog The Tig from 2014 to 2017. Markle's philanthropic efforts include being appointed a U.N. Women’s Advocate and working with the World Vision Clean Water Campaign, among other activities.

Clancy's comment: I reckon Harry has done alright. Meghan has also.

I'm ...