Thursday, March 14, 2013

Back in the Music

I grew up with a piano in the house.  And I played it.

My brother began lessons when he was 8 years old.  Being the tag-along style sister that I was, I danced around the piano while he practiced and forced him to explain his books and notes to me.  Together with my mother, he taught me the basics.  And I played.  I played his books and I played my own creations.  Following his lead, I began lessons when I was 8 years old.  And I played even more.

I never quit lessons.  Not until I was halfway through college.  I strongly appreciate but barely understand why my parents allowed me to maintain those lessons, all those years.  Some years I rarely practiced.  Some years I was so focused on school work and debate and church and friends and growing up that I never practiced.  But still, I played.  With small corners of spare time, I would drop at the piano and play whatever was handy.  I would play from memory.  I would play sheet music sitting on the rack.  I would play scales.  The piano sat in the living room, on a wall next to the front window.  While I waited for friends to pick me up on Saturday night, I would play.

When I went away to college, I lived in the dorms without a piano.  Our campus was small, but the fine arts center sat on the opposite side.  The practice rooms had lovely sound, but it took quite an effort to gather my music, cross campus and play.  It became something I needed to schedule.  Still, I played.  Still I took lessons, and this teacher demanded progress.  So, I played.  But I didn't practice often, and I showed little progress.  Every time I needed to perform, I played the same piece - Debussy's Claire de Lune.  But when I sat in the practice rooms, I just played.  I played whatever sat on the top of the pile, or whatever I pulled from the bottom.  I played through the whole stack.  I just played.  Dave has fond memories of listening in, bringing his homework and studying in the corner of the practice room while we dated, and I played.

I had to declare a major at the end of my sophomore year.  I didn't declare music, and so I lost access to piano lessons.  Still I played, sometimes.  But rarely.

We graduated.  We moved to St. Louis.  I began graduate school and we lived in a little apartment.  I kind of forgot about the piano.  I never played anymore.  Sometimes I'd sit on the bench at my parents' house and leaf through a book, but I rarely played for long.

Until Mr. King down the street sold us his piano.  It was an old piano, and had a very nice St. Louis sound.  That is to say, it could have been something Scott Joplin played in some old bar, back in the day.  It sounded old and clunky.  But it was free, and it was a piano.  I could play again.  We gathered a big group of guys and rolled the piano down the street and into our front room.

Never roll a piano down the street.

Our piano lay on its back, onethree metal saw horses until an overbooked piano carpenter had the time to undo any damage wrought on an old piano by rolling it down a St. Louis city street.  We spent $500 on the carpenter, $100 on pizza and beers for our friends to roll it down the street and do the damage, and still considered it a bargain.  Because I could play again.  Lilly was little and Sophia was en utero.  And I had the time to play again.  I played in Becky's wedding, and I practiced.  I played again, and it was lovely.

But within a year, we moved to China.  This piano was not worth moving to China, let alone putting back into storage.  We gave it back to Mr. King, who had missed it while it was gone.  And we didn't have a piano anymore.  We moved every year.  We had no practice rooms.  We had no friends with pianos.  I never played.  The kids grew older, and they hadn't grown up with a piano in the house.

Then, a few weeks ago, we heard about a piano for sale.  A lady associated with our church was selling one for a real steal.  We went to meet her.  She is Venezuelan and lives in a small apartment in a tall high-rise, the kind that looks like any high-rise in any developing country.  Her street corner is all busy streets, but the drive up to her building is private and quiet and green.  Security in Caracas is tight, and it seems this group of apartments has tied themselves off from the street - it felt like the old lanes of Shanghai.

Her apartment was small - one room with a bedroom off to the side.  Inside her main room, she had a beautiful, brown Steinway grand piano.  It was gorgeous.  She was not selling that, and has no plans to.  She was selling the Baldwin Acrosonic pictured above.  She is a music teacher, and taught at the primary school of music for many, many years.  She taught many students who went on to become professional pianists.  She met many interesting people and has so many stories.  And then she became sick with cancer, and she couldn't pay for her last two chemotherapy treatments.  The clinic told her not to worry.  They told her the foundation would cover her treatments.  She hadn't played since she got sick - neither the little Baldwin nor the mighty Steinway.  She hadn't tuned either of them, and she wouldn't be teaching anymore.  So, she sold the Baldwin.  She talked to her tuner - a man she used to fly in from Miami to care for her pianos.  He set the price for her.  Acrosonics are very simple pianos, and very old.  They don't have much value.  She didn't need to make a profit.  She planned on giving every bolivare to the foundation at the clinic.

It arrived this morning.  And now I have a piano again.  Yet another piano with a story even more beautiful than its sound.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am so happy for you! Love you.