Just about half way through my 80th (!) decade, I have had one constant in my life. That constant? My piano! Recently, I said goodbye to the 1928 Knabe grand piano that no longer functioned. Releasing this part of my life after 75 years has stirred up many emotions.
For the first half of my life, the treasured instrument belonged to my mother. When I was a child, she taught piano to young people and as I sat and observed, I must have also absorbed, because suddenly I was playing the piano. I do not remember “learning” this. It just happened, as did learning to read and to write. I quickly moved through the piano teachers’ literature to arrive at middle school age with a fairly competent ability to play standard classical adult numbers and popular songs. These basic piano standards continued to provide playing pleasure for me. The piano was a handy emotional outlet, a way to get the frustration, anger or depression out without actual human interaction or communication. In my childhood home, there was a music room. The piano was placed near a window and I spent many long hours playing to an imaginary audience outside that window, including numbers “composed” as I went along.
Somewhere in my teen years, my repertoire expanded to include more complicated pieces such as the two- and three-part inventions and partitas of Bach which were oh- so- satisfying to play. I was often pressed into accompanist duties at church and other gatherings. As any musician knows, accompanying requires a slightly different skill set and my anxiety always got in the way of my performance. Suffice it to say – not my favorite thing!
A sudden move to another state was the most traumatic event of my 14-year-old life, but when we arrived at an unfamiliar and temporary home, the piano was there. And I played it often! Practically mute and unable to function in my new environment, I could still discharge my feelings through the music. However, I lacked the discipline to move on to more challenging music and did not find a new piano teacher. My expertise did not really improve, but stalled at the level where it remains today.
During my college years, I rarely played the piano and did not reveal my abilities to the people around me. A secret hiatus. The suite where I lived senior year had a piano and one day I sat down and played, surprising myself and everyone. I knew when I got home, I would return to my piano.
The next chapter was marriage and family. Before our first baby arrived, I informed my husband that owning a piano was essential to our family. Soon a spinet piano became a part of our household goods. I enjoyed playing it, but it never provided the same intensity of expression as that of my mother’s grand. Visits to grandma’s always included some piano playing for me.
Sometimes, I would be startled by a strong emotional connection, whenever I happened to hear one of the pieces my mother often played when I was a child. Years later, I realized that she had stopped playing the piano and I believe that that was one of the symptoms of her longtime depression. When she died, the piano was mine and became the centerpiece of the living/dining area in our home.
So, this large piece of “furniture” grew in significance over the years. I enjoyed playing it always. Getting it tuned was more sporadic than routine and the condition of the instrument deteriorated. Re-building became a common recommendation from piano technicians, but the estimated cost was not possible for me. The piano evolved from instrument to furniture. As I struggled with the emotional significance, my family and friends grew tired of hearing me talk about what to do about the piano.
Now, the piano is gone. A large space has opened in my home and in my psyche where the weight of the piano had become so familiar. The relief is a surprise! Soon, I will accept the loan of my daughter’s piano, a beautiful console mostly unused in her home. She is moving to a smaller house; my care of her piano is a perfect solution for both of us.
And I can’t wait to start playing again!!