BIG Keyboard

Big keyboard
YouTube video

WindWorks Design was pleased to design and build full custom midi-to-light controller for a stage-sized keyboard for the famous dancing piano scene for "BIG - the musical". This is the broadway musical adaptation of the famous movie "BIG" starring Tom Hanks. In this particular instance, the performance was by the Odyssey School in Greece, NY. WindWorks donated over $2000 of hardware and custom programming to provide the midi-to-light interface in the keyboard. There are 22 light-up keys, driven by the right hand midi keyboard in the pit orchestra. The primary electronics are controlled by a PIC microcontroller monitoring the midi data stream, and two toggle switches for enable/disable and keyboard/chase modes. When disabled, no action was taken. When enabled, the mircocontroller would read the midi data stream and map particular notes to specific pins on 22 logic outputs across 3 ports on the PIC. These ports were wired into a custom parallel interface which then was distributed over db25 cables to 5 power enclosures, each having a bank of 4 or 6 solid state relays. A logical high signal from the PIC microcontroller would drive the appropriate solid state relay, lighting the appropriate dance-on keyboard key using 1-2 strings of 100 mini lights. The entire setup was remote enabled through a relay system in the back of the theatre house with the lighting console.

Original designs included considering micro-switches for controlling the lights and also driving a midi synth, but the accuracy of the actors/dancers getting onto the right key at the right time was too much in an already demanding dance sequence. So following the lead from the broadway method, the keyboardist in the pit actuated the sound and the light up keys via our midi interface, and the actors/dancers only had to get onto the right key at the right time - or at least get close. We are pleased to say that every performance both the music and the performers were perfectly in sync. Our thanks to Chris Reddy and the rest of the play's tech crew for the excellent construction of the actual keyboard setpiece built into the ramp extension around the pit orchestra. This was a very creative team and the resulting collabration was outstanding. Our thanks also to Mary Jane Davidson, director of the play for trusting WindWorks Design to complete the task on time and to fully meet all specifications.

Technical Credits for MIDI electronics:

  • uP Programming: Bob Smith
  • System Design and Construction: Art Whitfield
  • Keyboard testing and midi note verification: Kevin Whitfield
  • Mechanical construction assistance: Lance Fuller

Here it is in action on YouTube

The complete keyboard is now gone, but did have an extended life in many other productions for a while on rental.