Santa Maria Sun / Music
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 26
A study in skillMeet Larry Keast, a local piano teacher, tuner, technician, builder, mover, and inventor
BY JOE PAYNE
It was early on a warm mid-August day, when Larry Keast was loading my piano into the back of his powder blue El Camino, that he started to share some of the stories he has collected over his 50-plus years in the music business.
I had hired Keast to move my piano, being familiar with him as a former student of his at Allan Hancock College, where he teaches piano. Now, years later, Keast was relating some of his experiences; from being the piano tuner for Michael Jackson’s estate, to the various inventions he created or crafted over the years, including the ramps and tools he was using to carefully move my piano.
Keast grew up studying the piano, but never took it seriously until just before high school. He increased his daily practice regiment until he was practicing for several hours a day.
“With music, it was fun for me to push myself to practice four, five, or six hours a day,” he said. “I started getting into the minutia of it—how to hold your hand, reading about the lives of the great composers—and I enjoyed the music, of course. It became a form of expression for me.”
In college Keast earned a master’s degree in music quickly at Cal State Los Angeles in the 1970s. While there, he would perform on weekends and nights to support himself financially. This included playing piano at a pizza restaurant where there would be black-and-white silent films projected on the wall above him, and he would improvise music to match and complement the silent scenes. It was around this time that Keast became interested in the mechanics of pianos.
“One of the things I noticed when I played for people was I would wish the piano sounded better,” he said, “Sometimes I would wish that the people who had paid me had also paid for the piano to be fixed or tuned. It was with the better pianos that I could really sweep them off their feet, so to speak.”
While working on his master’s degree, Keast organized an independent study project under a seasoned piano technician who taught him the fundamentals of piano building, repair, and tuning. After graduation, and honing his expertise, Keast ventured forth as an entrepreneur, tuning, repairing, moving, and rebuilding pianos all over Los Angeles, including for celebrities such as the famous pianist Victor Borge.
It was also around this time that he became interested in historical pianos. He discovered that he could send away for a kit that would, after much assemblage, yield a replica of a Mozart-era forte piano. It took time, but with the help of his skill in woodworking, he had a nearly exact copy of the instrument that Mozart played.
“After making that forte piano, a few years later I got obsessed with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, who wrote for the harpsichord,” he said, “I followed through with my interest and I built a seven-foot-long, two-manual Flemish Harpsichord.”
Keast has never limited his interests. While he enjoyed building the two instruments from kits, he couldn’t keep from realizing his own ideas. While he was attending school, the style of music that was deemed avant-garde was microtonal music. Microtonal music utilizes pitches outside of the 12 tones used in Western music. Keast started wrapping his head around making a keyboard that could play notes in between the black and white keys.
“I began to build a kind of prototype,” he said. “I bought a few electronic keyboards, hooked them together, and invented another kind of keyboard.”
Keast’s new keyboard looks well enough like a regular piano keyboard, with white and black keys where they should be, but in between each key is a smaller grey key, which allows the musician to play notes in between the half tones, such as quarter tones. Keast patented the idea—the only patent he holds—though he has invented many other things.
In Los Angeles, Keast also procured the world’s largest piano, a Steinway Model D. What he describes as his dream piano, the Steinway D weighs close to a ton, but that didn’t deter Keast from devising an invention to move the massive piano all by himself. With the help of a simple jack and a special fulcrum he installed on the bottom of the piano, Keast can move the giant grand piano by himself.
After moving to Orcutt in the late 1980s, and bringing his Mozart piano, harpsichord, and Steinway D with him, Keast continued a program that he conceived in LA. He began offering to local Parent-Teacher Associations historical performances of classical music. Keast would come dressed as a famous composer and perform in character. He let his audience choose which composer he would perform as, either Bach with his harpsichord, Mozart with his forte piano, or Chopin with his Steinway. Keast performed more than 100 concerts on the Central Coast before retiring the act.
Nowadays, Keast still teaches piano privately, as well as at Allan Hancock College. He still brings his forte piano or harpsichord to Hancock each semester for his students to play on and experience.
He might be of retirement age, but he still moves pianos with skill and care. And he has never stopped inventing, using his talents to help those he comes across in the community.
“I would recommend to people to pursue their interests and take risks, because you never know what could happen or where life will take you,” he said.
All the stops
AGO Central Coast Chapter and Rodgers Organs Los Angeles presents Dr. Jung-A Lee performing live on a new organ on Sept. 9 at Grace Lutheran Church, 423 E. Fesler St., in Santa Maria.
Fun at the 510
The 510 Event Center presents a live blues jam featuring local musicians led by Juan Marquez and Sangria Wednesdays from 7 to 10 p.m. DJ Orlando entertains Thursday nights starting at 10 p.m. (dress code enforced). DJ Orlando also spins for “Margarita Night” every Monday from 9 p.m. to midnight. Saturdays feature an open mic from 4 to 7 p.m., and Saturday nights are Latin night featuring live norteño and banda music. Call for times. The 510 Event Center is located at 510 S. Broadway, Santa Maria. More info: 928-5510, email@example.com, facebook.com/510eventcenter, or 510eventcenter.com.
The Chumash Casino and Resort presents the country music group Lonestar on Sept. 6. The Chumash Casino Resort is at 3400 E. Highway 246, Santa Ynez. More info: 1-800-CHUMASH or chumashcasino.com.
All that jazz
The Santa Maria Inn presents A New Twist on an Old Favorite in the Tap Room featuring performances by Mezcal on Fridays, Mofongo performs the first Saturday of each month, the Sammy Labastida Jazz and Blues Band performs the second Saturday of each month, Louie Ortega performs the third Saturday of each month, and Lawless and Dean perform the fourth Saturday of each month. The shows take place in the Tap Room, Santa Maria Inn, 801 S. Broadway, Santa Maria. More info: 928-7777 or santamariainn.com.
The Maverick Saloon offers live entertainment, including the country music of Von Cotton on Sept. 7 at 8:45 p.m., followed by Late Night with guest DJs at 11:30 p.m. Concert on the Deck featuring Brant Cotton and Friends is Sept. 8 at 3 p.m. Von Cotton performs Sept. 8 at 8:45 p.m., followed by Late Night with guest DJs at the saloon, 3687 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez. More info: 686-4785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Calendar Editor Joe Payne at email@example.com.