PermaLink The music lives again06/08/2007 11:54 PM
After my venerable Yamaha SY-85 died due to overexposure to cat whiz, I was sort of dreading having to go try to shop for something new and unfamiliar.  eBay, fortunately, came through, and I found a practically-new unit for barely a sixth of what I paid for its predecessor.

One day fifteen years ago, I went over to Bill's Music in Catonsville, Maryland, and came away with a brand-new Yamaha SY-85 synthesizer, a marvel even then, and life with music was never quite the same again. I bought the thing originally because I'd been tasked with being the music director for a production of My Fair Lady at York College, up in York, Pennsylvania, and rather than face the horror of trying to put together a competent pit orchestra who would (a) show up for rehearsals, (b) show up for performances and (c) not leave empty vending-machine pretzel bags and cans of Diet Coke all over the theater, I went and got the Yamaha and installed CakeWalk Pro on my old IBM PS/2 Model 30-286.

That's right. I ran an entire Broadway show production on a 10Mhz 80286 processor with a whole one megabyte of RAM and a 30-megabyte drive.

I spent the next few months realizing the entire score of the production into MIDI and tweaking the Yamaha to find and tune exactly the samples I wanted for the various instruments, even going to the point of picking out exactly where in the stereo field the "musicians" would sit, left to right.

The show was a big success, and that Yamaha and I have been together ever since. However, some years ago one of the cats took the liberty of whizzing in the keyboard, which destroyed the entire keyswitch array. My ex-wife bought me a replacement part for it (barely $100 from Yamaha, who did a pretty good job of stocking parts for these popular monsters) and I cleaned the synth out and replaced the keyboard, producing an illustrated tutorial on the process that's probably still floating around the web somewhere. However, about four years ago I put the Yamaha in the basement, still on its stand and under a heavy plastic cover, figuring when I needed to use it, it'd be there, ready to power up.

Power up it did, but it didn't operate when I actually turned it on a few weeks ago. I opened it up, and there was still corrosion on the PCBs I had somehow missed in the Great Cat-Whiz Purge a few years back. The Yamaha was pretty much unrepairable.

I found a replacement on eBay, and was the only bidder at $249. My original unit cost $1800 in 1992, probably equivalent to $2400 now. The lady selling it shipped it according to my packing instructions, and it made the trip from Chicago, Illinois to our front porch in record time... less than 48 hours. I was astonished. I didn't plan on seeing it until next week sometime, since it had been shipped via the Postal Service. But it showed up this morning, and I immediately pulled it out, put it on the stand, plugged it in and plugged in the sustain pedal and headphones. The battery in my Yamaha 64K data cartridge (yeah, that's "sixty-four kilobytes") had long since gone dead, so it couldn't read my custom instrument settings, but it did read all the old MIDI sequences off the one remaining floppy I had from the original unit. A 720K floppy, by the way, the same shitty drive IBM chose to put in the 8086-based PS/2 Model 30. They saved maybe four bucks putting that in instead of a 1.44MB floppy, and caused thousands of owners endless hassle trying to find DSDD 720K diskettes in a world dominated by 1.44 DSHD diskettes.

But I still like the unit. Suzanne played it briefly and liked it. Have to admit, it's a hell of a lot more portable than her Pearl River piano.

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1. ddddd10/25/2015 11:37:29 PM
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