A few days ago we had a repairman around, not to fix the plumbing or electrical (although heaven knows we could use that, too), but to tune and look over our piano. This is not just any piano; it’s a turn-of-the-century carved upright. An antique. However, it’s really so much more than that.
I took piano lessons as a kid. Kind of going back and forth as to whether I liked it or loathed it. I never was, or am, good at following directions. Obviously, reading music and listening to a teacher is all about following directions. However, somehow I learned to read music and enjoy playing the piano. I did an arrangement once for “Stars of Tomorrow” and won the first round, but only because I arranged the three pieces of music I liked and called it, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grown up.”
I spent my “post-lesson” days playing some music I liked. In my late teens, I inherited a baby grand piano, an antique Steinway. It was wonderful, but huge! I don’t know how many of you have had to purchase a house around a huge piano, but it’s really difficult. So, after a few years of paying crazy prices to move it and having the cats lie on it and throw up hairballs I sold it. I was sad to see it go, but I’d sort of fallen out of the habit of playing it.
Then three years ago we acquired my brother’s piano. He was moving to England and my parents didn’t want him to put it in storage. So we found a corner of the living room and in it came. I must say I had mixed feelings at the time. Our house is mid-century modern, and our decorating sense lies much more toward funky than antique. However, the kids were little and it was fun to have the piano.
So, there it sat for three years. The kids pounded on it occasionally and the cats walked on the keys, but I didn’t play it much. Finally a month or so ago I sat down to play and eep! It sounded awful. It was so far out of tune it was hard to tell if it was my fumbling playing or the piano!
So, this past week, as the repairman stood there with his machines and fabulous techniques for putting the piano back into shape, I started to tell him the story of the piano. My great grandmother purchased it for her two daughters to learn on somewhere around the turn of the century—probably the early 1900’s. She was a single parent who had thrown her gold seeking husband out when he ran off to one too many gold rushes. They were Catholic, so never divorced, but she supported her two girls by making dresses for Molly Brown (among others). Then the piano went to my grandmother, where my mother learned to play on it.
I remember it in our house growing up and giggling when I found my grandfather’s initials on the side of one of the keys “A.S.S.”—yes, they were his initials and yes, he really enjoyed that they were! Inscribed inside the piano, above the pins are the carved name of a tuner who tuned the piano in 1910.
My family will tell you that I’m probably the least sentimental of the group, mainly because I hate when things are stored away because, “we couldn’t possibly give it away.” I love to see things used. I think in this case, this piano will continue to be loved and with any luck for another 100 years.
Photo Courtesy of Frequently Wrong and Never in Doubt