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CLASSICAL MUSIC / Upbeat: Ivory? No sweat

EVER since the USA banned ivory imports in 1990, writes Andrew Green, the race has been on to find a synthetic alternative for piano keys that has the authentic touch and properties. Now the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, claims to have created a substance that reproduces the porous quality of genuine ivory. Logically, if unimaginatively, the institute has dubbed it 'rpivory'.

The concern has been that plastics used until now cannot disperse sweat from pianists' fingers. 'Rpivory' is made using a mould from an authentic ivory key, preserving the minute imperfections in the original. Water-soluble powder in the plastic mixture is washed away, leaving pores which allow the keys to 'breathe'. Professor Henry Scarton, of the Rensselaer team of scientists, told reporters that normal plastic keys lead to 'hydroplaning' in concerts, which he described as 'an athletic event . . . sweat is pouring off you'. Steinway in New York have been road-testing 'rpivory', apparently with positive results.