Nomination
An alumnus of the class of 1981 writes, "The Baker House Piano Drop is a celebration of the student spirit, where a (non-functioning) piano is dropped six stories from the roof of Baker House to the ground below. Originally, the target was Amherst Alley, but after Amherst Alley was moved, the target for the airborne piano is now on the Memorial Drive side of the dorm, in the grassy area between the building and the road.

"Although allegedly timed to coincide with "drop date", the Baker House Piano Drop is actually a combination of dorm spirit, harmless destructiveness, and the willingness to do something difficult just for the sake of doing it."

An alumnus of the class of 1975 adds, "in '72, we dropped a piano off the roof of Baker House. We had high speed cameras set up to record the event, and a group who were taking Prof. Edgerton's high speed photography course got an A on that particular project.

It was the first event in what came to be a long-standing tradition. It was fun, non-destructive (the piano was not functional, one of the dorm residents bought two junk pianos and built one good one from the parts, and the one that was dropped was the left-overs. Plus, MIT Maintenance had the hole filled in with a few minutes, and the debris was picked up by students even more quickly, so within 10 minutes, max, everything was back to normal), caught the attention of Boston and Cambridge - it made the local news, a lot of people used some of their basic physics and math skills in a fun way (calculating how long it would take to fall, how fast it would be going, etc - it was a game comparing your results with other folks) and a group of students taking Prof. Edgerton's high speed photography class learned more about their science and got an A on their project.

"It was more than just a bunch of idiot students destroying something, it was a Event. It also helped foster a sense of community in Baker House which made the atmosphere in Baker more friendly than in most dorms and raised the morale of Baker residents at a tough time of the year, drop date."

An alumnus of the class of 1984 adds, "The Piano Drop was extremely memorable-I still have a few keys of the piano that dropped when I was a student-what a scramble! It's something that was done which you can't imagine anyone would let you do. The Piano was beyond repair though...."

An alumna of the class of 1978 adds, "I agree that the piano drop just isn't the same once Amherst Alley was moved. I was there in 1975 and it is a part of Institute history. When I meet with prospective sudents, the cameraderie of MIT students is something I like to brag about, and the piano drop is an inherent part of that history."
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  • I was part of the crew that organized the first one of these in 1973 and took a great slow-motion movie of the first drop and impact. Who would have guessed that what seemed like a logical way to remove Baker’s one non-functioning piano from one of the Baker lounges would have continued! So where do all the continuing streams of pianos come from?

    Trip Barber '73

    8 Oct 09 at 10:20 pm

  • I was there for the original piano drop in 1973, and I cannot think of anything which generated as much excitement during the four years I was in Baker House. This event definitely belongs in any history of MIT!

    Richard Schechter

    8 Oct 09 at 10:31 pm

  • The 1975 piano drop was a lot of fun – one of the highlights of my freshman year. It’s a shame they relocated Amherst Alley so they can’t happen any more.

    Sue Kayton

    8 Oct 09 at 10:59 pm

  • Actually, the young whippersnappers drop the pianos
    on the Memorial Drive side of the dorm now :-)

    Tim Kuo '81

    8 Oct 09 at 11:07 pm

  • I, too was part of the original 1973 crew. Ground zero for our “experiment” was Albany Street, the service road that runs parallel to Mem Drive, but behind Baker, Burton, MacGregor, etc. Since I was part of the crew that was responsible for keeping passers-by out from underneath the piano, I was well within earshot of the magnificent slow vibrato “b-o-n-g-g-g-g” of the strings when the piano hit the street. If anything should be memorialized, that sound should be — I’ve never heard anything like it, either before or since.

    And if Trip has a movie of this contribution to musical history, I’d love to see it.

  • “Baker House Piano Drop” on Youtube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kbFhNOabqQ

    However, I don’t think the YouTube posting has the date right: I thought the year was 1973.

    As I recollect, Charley missed the actual drop — he was busy stalling the Campus Police.

    Jean Renard Ward ’73

  • I came to MIT in Fall ’72. Was living in Baker House at the time of the first piano drop. Trip Barber was/is a Baker House legend. Of course, the unif of volume now known as the “bruno” is classic.

    The Baker House piano drop should definately be part of the MIT 150 exhibit.

    Sometime shortly after the first piano drop, some frends and I dropped a waterbed off the top of the Green Building. (Un)fortunately that event did not establish a tradition.

  • It was 1972 btw (hi Trip/Richard — I was living in Baker at the time but moved out for fall 1973). The film is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kbFhNOabqQ (and there I am — the big “fro”; on the roof; about 50 secs in; off to the right :? ).

    Nicely done Rob Short for publishing the film!!!

    Nick Vasilatos

    8 Oct 09 at 11:51 pm

  • Baker House has had many things over the decades that were inventive. The piano drop is from a limited mind. It is not a hack. To give an example of a hack, that is already researched at the MIT Museum is when Baker House students convinced the press that we had made snow in the top floor shower room. It got in the local papers, and on page 1, and out of town and out of state papers, on local news and finally in CBS News with Walter Cronkite. Now that is a memorable hack, and there are definitely more. The piano drop is more like something that would be done by a on report fraternity at a lesser college.

    Stephen Leslie

    9 Oct 09 at 12:18 am

  • I’m not sure how this process works, but as long as we are nominating Baker House stuff, how about Twist of the Tool? Done in 1975 in collaboration with East Campus. He’s a version I’ve posted on Vimeo.

    http://www.vimeo.com/2082612

    Roger White

    9 Oct 09 at 12:20 am

  • I have been organizing the drop for Baker these past few years and will organize my last one this year as a senior. It’s still an amazing tradition and we get a great cross-campus turnout.

    Long live the Piano Drop!!!

    Aziz Albahar

    9 Oct 09 at 12:53 am

  • The piano drop was most certainly a highlight of living in Baker. The year I remember best was when we dropped the piano on top of a car since we were not allowed to drop it on the sidewalk.

    I wouldn’t say the piano drop was ever meant as a hack, just a good demonstration of basic mechanics. The ’72/73 video was great.

    Marisa Zuzga '95

    9 Oct 09 at 1:44 am

  • I ‘participated’ in this every year, being a piano freak, including one year in which another piano freak, Mindy Garber (“82) and I secretly removed the piano action so that we could help repair another piano in the dorm that we loved. People were apparently pissed, since the action provided a good deal of the explosive fireworks. Anyway, those four pianos represent some of my happiest Baker moments.

    Fred Feinberg

    9 Oct 09 at 2:42 am

  • Loved the piano drops, (and I don’t mean to derail the discussion), but what about another even better known Baker House origination, the purity test, which has developed almost to mythological status – mythological in the sense that I would bet most people who have heard of the test have no idea of its origin.

    David Maes

    9 Oct 09 at 3:10 am

  • I was part of the group that brought back the piano drop after a short 7 year hiatus in 2005. It brought out a large gathering and the local news from every Boston station was there to cover the event. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKLAeBholP0

    If you search for Baker Piano Drop on youtube, several videos will appear.

    This belongs in the MIT museum for many reasons. It brought a sense of community to Baker House and its students as well as the rest of campus. There are far too few community gathering events like the Piano drop at MIT. Second, it is a small feat of engineering and physics. In order for that Piano to drop exactly on target, some simple physics were employed. Lastly, building a ramp that would launch the piano off the roof safely and effectively put to use our engineering minds.

  • You can see me assisting in the first one and I was involved with the second one which was a grand piano! We also had a high speed film of it and it was amazing to see the piano sink diagonally into the ground as if it were defying gravity (from the tension of the strings). I dont have access to the film, it was an IAP project for Edgerton in fact – we got an A!

    Great to hear from all of you, Nick, Ed…..

    Trip can you post your high speed film?

  • I vote that they move Amherst Alley back to where it was so this can be done properly. We can teach people to look both ways before crossing…

    Jeff Solof '81

    9 Oct 09 at 8:43 am

  • I guess this thread kind of caught on last night!!

    @Roger – to nominate a new thing, click the Nominate button at the top of the page. There’s a form to fill out so we can get the essential info.

    Allan Doyle

    9 Oct 09 at 8:45 am

  • The original piano drop occurred in 1972 and the youtube video was filmed by the inventor of the Bose noise canceling headphones, Bill Short VI’73,my husband’s roommate. The pieces were instantaneously grabbed up after the drop. A circle was painted around the divot in Amherst Alley to differentiate it from less notable potholes

    Candy Lee '76

    9 Oct 09 at 8:46 am

  • As a Bakerite from 1975-1979, I must say that was a proud moment for the dorm every year. The piana made a large “El Ka-bong” sound as it hit the asphalt, and typically left a pothole about 6″ deep. Absolutely senseless, and yet SO much fun !!! Hope the tradition stays alive. Since it wsa moved to the Memorial Drive side, to we still get the desired impact ?

    Dave Geiser '79

    9 Oct 09 at 9:14 am

  • Although my MIT days predate the Piano Drop, MIT students did a related thing during my years, 1961-65. It was to see which team could put a piano through a 21 cm hole (if I remember correctly, IIRC) the fastest. The rules for tools to use and persons on a team were simple: 2 tools, a mallet and an axe IIRC; 3 on a team. Usually one person fed the shards through the hole while the other two generated the shards. The record time was incredibly fast: 9 min. IIRC. It just took a couple minutes to break up everything except the sounding board. Yes, somehow they managed to break up even the sounding board.

    Does anyone else know about this annual contest? Is it still happening?

    Gene Chase

    9 Oct 09 at 11:00 am

  • As a former Baker House resident AND social chairman during part of Charlie Bruno’s tenure there (when Jim Moody was house president and Everett Butcher was one of the upperclassmen who “adopted” me as a callow freshperson), I can honestly say that if the Piano Drop is not included in the MIT 150 celebration, there is really no reason to celebrate! :-)

    (Anybody got moving or still images of the pumpkin drop we did off of the Green Building, which I believe we did in 1973, my freshman year? I was part of the team on the roof, in radio contact with the team on the ground keeping people out of the way!)

  • I spent four great years as an ungraduate in Baker House 77-81. The Piano Drop was tradition that we looked forward to with anticipation every year.

    Ted Equi

    9 Oct 09 at 1:39 pm

  • We used to use the calculated volume of the first hole as a unit of measurement, as well as the intensity of the sound. MIT Maintenance staff was ready with a bucket of hot asphalt, and the hole in Amherst Alley was filled in within minutes, the debris was gone even faster, and it was just a really fun event.

    It made the TV news, and the local broadcaster had to inject morality into it “What took many man hours to build was destroyed in seconds.” What they didn’t say was that one of the house residents, Kevin (and I can’t remember his last name, sorry, Kevin) had purchased two pianos, both of which had been junked, and he used parts from the one we dropped from the roof to rebuild the other one. And what was left was just a piano-shaped pile of junk.

    Not long after, we had a house party featuring a great Dixieland Jazz band, and Kevin let the band use his piano (after Baker paid to have it tuned). It was one heck of a party!

    Dan Swanson '75

    9 Oct 09 at 2:12 pm

  • Thank you all for your comments; please keep them coming both on this post and other nominations!

    Several photos from Doc Edgerton’s slide collection at the MIT Museum show the 1978 piano drop. In addition, the museum has a key from the 1973 piano. What other objects, photos, or films would you suggest we use to represent the piano drop in a future exhibit?

    ariel

    9 Oct 09 at 2:46 pm

  • I was there for the first drop, part of the ground security team. My recollection is that it was in 1973, as I didn’t move into Baker until 9/1972. The event had been advertised. As a crowd began gathering, a campus patrolman, Zack as I recall, came up to me and asked what was going on. I says, “Nothing.” He looked up, saw Charlie Bruno on the roof, and immediately radio’d something like, “I don’t know what they’re doing but Bruno is on the roof”. Campus patrol rushed into the building and up to the roof, realized they couldn’t prevent the inevitable, and came back down to help with crowd control.

    The strings had been loosened or removed from the piano as a safety measure. There was concern about explosive forces being generated.

    As Dan Swanson writes, Physical Plant filled the hole very, very quickly, which prompted a letter to the editor in The Tech complaining that Physical Plant takes forever to fix broken plumbing but rushes out to fill a pothole.

    Charlie Bruno, bless his fun loving heart, just wanted his name on a unit of measurement. Since linear measure had been taken by Smoot, Charlie went for volume!

    Alan Katz '75

    9 Oct 09 at 3:07 pm

  • We did this (Class of 97) and it was an awesome community experience for the Baker House – not sure about other classes but we actually dropped the paina on an old car just to make sure we didn’t damage the grounds. We were pretty accurate too. :)

    Van Van

    9 Oct 09 at 4:42 pm

  • I vaguely remember the story of the two pianos, and a storyteller’s detail “what do you mean, the wrong piano??!?”

    Hy Tran '79

    9 Oct 09 at 6:50 pm

  • @allan I did find the nominating button and Twist of the Tool is now nominated. Those of you who want to nominate it, search for Twist.

    Roger White

    9 Oct 09 at 11:02 pm

  • Life at Baker House in the 1970′s was a time full of wonderful memories. The water fights, the loud stereos on 5th central, parties every weekend, there was even an elevator party with Paul Malchodie bartending in the elevator, intramural sports, Nafi and Helena, rice with every meal for a month in the dining hall, the pizza truck every night. But one thing always was Baker, the piano drop. Back then the elevator only went up to six, now thanks to ADA to the roof. How many tools back then were body builders? Through sheer brain power those pianos made it up the stairs. Go Baker House, keep up the traditions.

    Frank Murphy

    10 Oct 09 at 9:02 am

  • Still have a key somewhere from either 1979 or 80 drop. I think one year was missed. I even remember the aiming mattress. This is one of the best Baker house stories for non-MIT people. They just can’t believe we would do such a thing.

    marlon weiss, '80

    13 Oct 09 at 5:14 pm

  • I observed the revival of the tradition in 2005, and helped get the piano for the following year’s drop from a generous donor. This nice gentleman – an engineer, of course – had seen the coverage in 2005 and wanted us to throw his old piano off the roof the following year, and emailed us about it. So four of us hauled out to Central Mass on a rainy Friday night in an ancient UHaul to pick this thing up. The piano was molded shut, and it weighed some insanely heavy amount. As hard as it was getting it into the truck, it flipped inside the truck when coming back (when making a turn), so getting this beast out of the truck ended up being exhausting. In the end, it made for a good piano drop, and the frame of the piano didn’t even break.

    Nikhil N

    31 Oct 09 at 9:25 pm

  • That first piano that went off the roof of Baker House in 1972 was my piano. It was a functioning piano I had bought for about $15 and kept it tuned myself. I had it in my coffin (or was it a pie?) and had built a loft for my bed over it. When I chose to move out, no one wanted it so it was decided that it should go off the roof. I’m not sure exactly who came up with the brilliant idea. Maybe it was Charlie Bruno, or Nick Vasilatos, or someone else from that amazing group on the second floor, the Zoo Crew. Unfortunately, I missed the actual event as I had a gig that day. This is the first time I saw any footage of it. Very cool! I painted the ACME sign on it as soon as I got it into my room.

    Jon Kass '74 graduated in '78

    31 Oct 09 at 9:29 pm

  • I watched the original piano drop from Amherst Alley with Bill Short as he filmed it. It took him days to edit the 8mm film in those entirely analog days, especially because it was so difficult to get the moment of impact on the film to coincide with the final chord of “A Day in the Life” on the soundtrack. But all that painstaking effort cutting, gluing, and re-recording was worth it.

    Definitely a classic moment. The “performance” and the film are both pieces of art in their own rights, and any MIT retrospective worthy of the name should include them.

    (And hi to Candy, Trip, Andy, and a bunch of others…)

    A.C. Ross '74

    4 Nov 09 at 2:06 am

  • ah Baker in the 70s: the Baker 5th West crew, the “degeneracy party”, the shit hack, the trojans flag football team that spanked the fratboyz, and above all else Bruno’s piano drop. Life was good!

    Jim Rutt

    4 Nov 09 at 8:08 pm

  • We salvaged a black key from the Fall 1982 piano drop and used it to fix the handle on the fridge in our quad (purchased at the Baker Refrigerator Auction, of course). Technique that year had several photos of Bakerites wearing suits and ties standing around the wrecked piano; the drop actually took place on Yom Kippur but was conveniently scheduled during the break in services so that the Jewish residents–still dressed for shul–could attend.

    Scott Berkenblit '86

    5 Nov 09 at 5:05 pm

  • I think that pianos are cool but dropping them???!!!! really people.

    Johnny's blaaaa

    28 Mar 10 at 3:11 pm

  • Beware of the ambiguous unit of measurement:

    Bruno – A unit of volume resulting from a piano falling six stories onto Amherst Alley from the roof of Baker House. [How To GAMIT 2004]

    I used to wonder whether “volume” was space or loudness. Come to find out, it’s both! It’d be nice to see graphs of year-versus-cubic-meter and year-versus-decibels.

  • I can confirm that the piano dropped during the original 1972 piano drop, which has often been described as “non-functional,” actually was both functional and wanted.

    During autumn 1972, I had that piano in my room on loan from its owner. Even though a few keys were broken and it certainly was not pretty, I was quite happy teaching myself to play simple songs on it, because I had never before had access to a piano. I repeatedly offered to buy it, but its last owner (David Bok) was determined to donate it to be dropped instead. At the present time I am happy to have a piano safely in my house (even though I can’t really play it), and one of my children enjoys playing it.

    I understand that for recent piano drops, Baker House people have searched widely to find pianos that were truly broken beyond repair. That is somewhat reassuring. However, the YouTube videos, by themselves, could give a distorted impression about MIT. MIT in fact values artistic talent, and nowadays three-quarters of incoming MIT freshmen have prior training in some form of the arts.

    I do not understand the lack of respect for the artistry, and even the technology, represented by a piano. A piano drop seems to me to be sort of like a book-burning. Does piano-dropping really meet either of the two traditional criteria for an MIT hack (reversibility and cleverness)? I do appreciate the MIT fascination with fun and quirkiness and rooftops, but, really, why a piano? Maybe the residents, or somebody, could finally think of something else to drop that has a different symbolism. I think Stephen Leslie’s posting above hits the nail right on the head.

    Pete Materna '74

    17 Sep 10 at 11:57 am