Irving Berlin piano spotlighted at National Museum of American Jewish History


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When the new home of the National Museum of American Jewish History opens this fall in Philadelphia, one of the more curious items on display will be a special piano that was once used by Irving Berlin, the composer of such immortal songs as “God Bless America” and “White Christmas.”

It’s a well-known fact that Berlin, despite his enormous talent, couldn’t read or write music. The self-taught musician used a special instrument called a transposing piano that allowed him to play in multiple keys without learning the requisite musical technique. (“The key of C,” Berlin once said, “is for people who study music.”)


The museum said it will feature Berlin’s first transposing piano, which is more than 100 years old. It is believed that Berlin used the instrument to compose “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

The National Museum of American Jewish History, whose new home is set to open Nov. 14, is billed as the only museum in the U.S. dedicated solely to telling the story of Jews in America. With an estimated $150-million price tag, the museum’s new building is designed by architect James Stewart Polshek and features 100,000 square feet of space located in historic Philadelphia.

An affiliate of the Smithsonian, the museum’s original home was a 15,000-square-foot facility in Philadelphia that it has occupied since 1976.

-- David Ng