7.17.2019

why it is interesting and significant that i own a piano

When we were negotiating for this house, through realtors, the former owners asked if we were interested in keeping their piano. I had noticed the old upright as soon as we walked in, and I immediately said an enthusiastic yes. (They also had a beautiful grandfather clock, but they weren't interested in leaving that!)

A friend asked if either of us play. I said, short answer, I used to. Here's the full answer.

Piano of childhood

I grew up with a beautiful baby grand, a gorgeous instrument that had been my grandmother's, and was then my mother's.

My mother played Rodgers and Hammerstein show tunes, and classical music, and some random things like Cole Porter and the easier Gershwin tunes. I loved to sit beside her on the piano bench and turn the pages, and sing along to the show tunes. South Pacific and Oklahoma were favourites. Her big Rodgers and Hammerstein song book had an image from the movies for each song. I can easily see them in my mind.

My siblings and I each took piano lessons as children, then at a certain age, we were allowed to decide whether or not to continue.

I started lessons at age 6. In my school, you could play an instrument in the school band or orchestra in 5th grade -- with the exception of violin, which you could play in the 4th grade. I opted for that, but I didn't enjoy it. The teacher was an idiot, and even worse, I discovered there was a stigma in school about playing the violin. (No idea why, but carrying a violin case in school made you subject to ridicule.) When I started violin, I quit piano. So after quitting violin, I was done.

Piano of teenage years

In high school, I hung out with musicians, and a friend of mine would always play when he was at my house. He wanted me to play, too, but I wouldn't. He told me about his piano teacher, who he said was super cool, and was really helping him develop musically. I decided to take lessons on my own.

This was a Big Thing. I had a job -- something my father was vehemently opposed to and tried (but failed) to prevent. Which meant I had my own money. Which meant I had a measure of independence. Which is why my hyper-controlling father didn't want me working.

I was also depressed. I didn't care about school, and although I was already political, I hadn't yet become an activist. I had friends, but was lonely. I was adrift, or that's how it felt.

I saw piano lessons as a chance to focus. Something to do that was only mine. A gift I would give myself.

The beginning of my junior year of high school, I started lessons with my friend's teacher, Beth. I had forgotten how to read music, but it came back pretty quickly. Beth wasn't into tedious scales and insipid beginning songs. She turned me on to Chopin and Mozart right away. (My mother listened to a lot of classical music, so I had some familiarity.) I worked hard, and I really enjoyed it. I was never more than passable, but that was hardly the point. It felt good. It revived me a bit. (An interesting note: I was not allowed to practice if my father was home. He literally forbid it.)

With the exception of my friend Chris and I, Beth's other students were all little kids. That made us special. Beth had an annual event where she took all her students to see The Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet. Chris and I attended and helped Beth with the kiddles. We were all dressed up, and we were kind of adults. It was so much fun.

Chris and I confessed to each other that we had crushes on Beth. She was beautiful and seemed so poised and elegant. I have no idea what she looked like in any objective sense. But our lessons were often the best part of my week.

I played for two years, through junior and then senior year. I stopped my lessons after I graduated high school. I had some vague idea that I would continue playing in university, but I never did. As it turned out, I never played piano again.

The piano that was mine

It was always understood that I would inherit the piano. I was the one in the family who appreciated it the most and who was most attached to it. Over the years, I thought about it now and again -- how we would transport it when the time came, if we'd have a place big enough to accommodate it -- but since it was going to be an inheritance, I didn't like to think about it too much, and I was in no rush to claim it.

Then my mother, at 84 years old, after living in the New York-New Jersey metro area her entire life, decided to move to Oregon!

My brother and sister-in-law had pulled up stakes and relocated from New Jersey to 50+ acres of land in southern Oregon, much closer to their adult children. And when the first child of the next generation was born, and my mother became a great-grandmother, she decided to join them. She moved to an amazing retirement community, very near all her west coast family.

And she gave me the piano. Not physically, but she told me now was the time. She said it was mine either to sell or to keep.

One of my nephews is a musician, and I decided to give the piano to him.

I knew he would appreciate it the most, and he would play it with his daughter, my grand-niece. The piano could move west with my mother's belongings, it could stay in the family, it could stay loved and appreciated. Allan and I would be able to make our life decisions without having to consider the expense and logistics of moving a baby grand.

Just like moving to Canada, and going to library school, and moving to the west coast, as soon as I made this decision, I knew it was the right thing to do. Everyone was very surprised. My nephew was stunned, and it took my mother a bit to get used to the idea. The decision made me a bit sad, a bit wistful, and my nephew was concerned that I would regret it. But just because something makes you a little sad doesn't mean it's a bad decision or the wrong choice.

The end, or not

So that was the end of my piano story. Or so I thought.

Now in a life full of improbability -- I'm a librarian, we live in a tiny town on Vancouver Island, we own a home -- I once again own a piano.

The former owners left a slim book of sheet music for us. I can't read it at all. I awkwardly played a C scale, but I can't remember any other scales, and I can't play left and right hands at the same time. A total beginner again! But I'm going to try.

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