Let’s Make Music!

At the request of several readers, I’ve decided to bring you along on the adventure of building the Lego Grand Piano my wife gave me for Christmas. I’m hoping this music-making journey amounts to a pleasing “concert” instead of an arduous one.  More akin to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy than Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. No matter how difficult this “piece” ends up “playing”, I can assure you of one thing.  It’s gonna take me a while; likely beyond when the snow stops flying in Colorado. 3,662 Lego pieces won’t snap together by my next blog post, nor the next one.  I’ll give brief updates at the bottom of my other topics as I progress. Movements if you will, instead of the entire piano concerto all at once.

And with a tap-tap-tap of the conductor’s baton, the performance begins!

To start, we have an elegant 23″ x 15″ x 6″ cardboard box containing our unassembled piano.  The box advertises the piano in three languages: English (Grand Piano), French (Le Piano a Queue), and Spanish (Piano de Cola).  The box cautions I should be over the age of 18 and batteries aren’t included. Batteries? In a grand piano?  But I digress…

The photos on the sides of the box tease the finished product.  First and foremost, the piano really plays once I assemble the several thousand pieces.  I don’t mean “play” as in a hidden music box with a digital soundtrack but “play” as in pressing the piano keys.  And speaking of piano keys, Lego provides only 25.  A real piano has 88.  In other words, the beautiful music my grand piano plays will be more Chopsticks than Chopin.  Makes sense because my Lego Grand Piano is only 12″ wide and 14″ deep.  Suddenly my fingers feel fat.

When I remove that elegant box top, here’s what I see inside:

As expected, the Lego pieces are divided into small plastic bags. (On the left, that is. The right is a smaller box-within-the-box looking like a square piano. We’ll get to that in a minute.)

If I organize the bags so you can see them better, I come up with this:

   

The audience gasps, in awe of the complexity of the performance unfolding before them.

Okay, NOW I have concerns.  First, the bag numbers start with “10”.  Hey Lego, what happened to 1-9?  Second, Bag 5 showed up among the double-digits like an orphan looking for a family.  Pretty sure Bag 5 belongs securely in that black box to the right.  Maybe Bag 5 was trying to escape.

At this point in the show, the phrase “missing pieces” tickles the pianist’s brain (but not the ivories).

I also find the set of bags in the photo to the right.  I assume they pair with their partner-numbered bags when I get to that part of the concerto.  But maybe they don’t.  Maybe each of them is a little project unto itself.

Little beads of sweat populate the pianist’s forehead.

Yes, I’m nervous. I hastily put the bags back into the box (which suggests I’m already going backward with this project).  But I do want to see what’s inside that black piano-wannabe box to the right.  Have a look:

    

Well hello Bags 1-9! I also found a few more of those partner-numbered bags.  But check out the disarray in the photo on the right.  Here we have three more orphan bags and, shockingly, a few pieces that escaped their bags.  What’s going on here?

The audience shifts uncomfortably in their seats as the pianist hesitates.

Finally, way at the bottom of the box, we have the pièce de résistance (Spanish: plato fuerte; English: main dish). Well hello, Mr. Instruction Manual.  Weighing in at a hefty 2.2 pounds and boasting 532 pages of mind-numbing steps, Mr. Instruction Manual is easily the heaviest item in the box.  He’s the equivalent of the phone book of a mid-sized city.  Furthermore, the plastic bag he came in included a little slip of paper shouting, “WARNING: To avoid danger of suffocation keep this bag away from babies and children.” Listen Lego, I’m not worried about babies and children; I’m worried about me.  I might be tempted to use that plastic bag to suffocate myself if I can’t complete my Grand Piano.

The pianist makes it this far into the performance without any faux pas’s (English: significant mistakes), but then I choose to open Mr. Instruction Manual to a random page. Terrible decision! Have a look:

Is this not an intimidating drawing? (Why yes, Dave, it is.) Does it look anything like a grand piano? (Why no, Dave, it does not.) Furthermore, you’re looking at Page 221, so we’re not even halfway through the build here.  I’m edging towards terrified, Lego.  Those pieces look small.  Those pieces look many.  And who’s to say the numbered bags make the one piece I’m looking for (amongst 3,361 of its plastic pals) any easier to find?

The pianist still hesitates, his hands shaking noticeably held just above the keyboard.

I wanted to finish this post with a photo of the first couple of pieces snapped together… I really did.  I wanted you to believe my music-making was officially underway.  But let’s be honest, my peek into the box where all those bags, orphans, and escaping pieces live, and the sheer size of Mr. Instruction Manual have me backing away from the keyboard (figuratively, followed by literally).  Sorry folks, tonight’s performance isn’t quite ready for prime time.  This pianist needs to change out of his sweat-drenched tuxedo into more comfortable clothing for now.  Let’s take an intermission, shall we?

The audience heads to the lobby.

Fantastic Plastic

On Christmas Day, any parent of small children will stifle a yawn, having built bicycles, dollhouses, and train sets the night before. After all, Santa doesn’t deliver unassembled toys. But hang in there a few years, Mom & Dad, because the building shifts from the giver to the receiver. Older kids want to create. In my generation it was Hot Wheels, Erector Sets, and Lincoln Logs. And one other toy surpassed all others for its ease of use and versatility. Lego.

This piano even plays!

My Christmas gift from my wife this year was a grand piano. Can you top that? Okay, so it wasn’t the kind worth five figures or special movers to get it across the threshold.  My piano measures a mere 12″ x 14″ and comes from the Lego “Ideas” collection.  When it’s finished it will have been built from 3,662 individual pieces.  I can’t wait to get started.

A grand piano made of Legos means the simple interlocking blocks I had as a kid have come a long, long way.  Lego Ideas sets are “products inspired by and voted for by Lego fans”.  The collection includes a typewriter, a ship in a bottle, the house from the Home Alone movies, and the apartment from the Seinfeld sitcom.  Every Ideas product involves thousands of Lego pieces to assemble.  Every Ideas product was also completely sold out for Christmas on the Lego website.

Fifty years ago, Lego was blessedly innocent.  All you had were small bricks in primary colors and if you were lucky, a paper set of instructions to create a simple house or a vehicle.  Otherwise, you just built whatever your imagination could come up with.  When my own kids were kids, Lego moved to product-specific sets like a T. Rex from Jurassic World or an X-wing Starfighter from Star Wars.  Sure, they looked cool when they were built, but I was always skeptical because the sets removed creativity from the experience.  You’d just follow the step-by-steps in the little booklet and voila – a T. Rex.  But call me a hypocrite because this sixty-year-old can’t wait to build his step-by-thousand-steps Lego Grand Piano.

Lego has an interesting history – too many chapters to cover here.  The numbers tell the story in a nutshell.  The Denmark-based company is considered the largest toy company in the world.  Their bricks have inspired movies, video games, building competitions, and eight amusement parks.  Their factories have been churning out little plastic pieces for almost 75 years.  And at last count, that pile of pieces surpassed 600 billion (or 75 Legos for every man, woman, and child on earth).

I didn’t expect to be a Lego fan as an adult but then came the Architecture series in 2008, cool buildings like the Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, and Empire State Building.  I just had to have one, so last Christmas my wife gifted me the 1,032-piece United States Capitol Building.  I didn’t clock how long it took to complete but I must’ve looked awfully confident in the assembly because now I’m staring down the more daunting Grand Piano.  Maybe my wife wants me locked down in my home office for the next several months?

To underscore the popularity of Lego these days, the Architecture series alone includes 50 buildings and cityscapes, with more coming out each year (the Taj Mahal was released just last summer).  These sets run anywhere from $50 to $250, with the discontinued ones setting you back three times as much.  Sure, I’d love a Lego version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater” house, but I’m not going to pay $800 to a collector just to have one.

Lego “Church of Christ”

No discussion of Lego would be complete without a nod to custom creations.  Our local Scheels department store has a larger-than-life Denver Broncos football player made of Legos, posing front and center in the toy department.  The Church of Christ creation in the photo here didn’t forget seating for an 80-member choir (below the big yellow crosses).  And the biggest custom creation of them all?  A full-scale Lego replica of the previously-mentioned X-wing Starfighter, first displayed outdoors in New York’s Times Square.  Try to picture 5.3 million Lego pieces and 23 tons of “toy” in the shape of a fighter jet.  Or just check out the photos here.

Now that I’m done writing it’s time to break open the first bag of pieces to begin my Lego Grand Piano (and time for you to watch the ingenious stop-motion video below).  I’ll use the stopwatch on my iPhone to capture the hours I consume to complete it.  Er, days? Weeks?  I mean, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Neither is a grand piano.  You might want to check in with me next summer to make sure I haven’t gone bats.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia” and the Lego.com website.