Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Talking Piano (with apologies to Sylvia Plath)

We ordered this, shiny black box
Curved and square and too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the body of a whale
Or a gleaming tailfin
Were it not so still.

It arrived yesterday. First its legs and pedals were brought in, each in its own padded bag. Then the main body came down the hall, carried by two strong men. And I swear I heard it talking. Just a few notes, conversationally, as it was carried over the threshold. It then sat quietly on its side to be re-assembled, before being set to rights. Then its lid, and stand. After the men had left, I played a little (really, I can't play a single thing without lots of mistakes and hesitation), but feeling a bit overwhelmed, I closed it down. A red felt cover over the keys, and a black padded cover over the whole; and I set it to sleep till Joel came home.

As we started looking for a piano a month or two ago, I started thinking of them as big black whales, mysterious visitants to land, singing deep and curious songs beyond my ken, especially with their gleaming sailfin lids rising in rows in the bigger showrooms. The decision was difficult from beginning to end. Much harder than buying a car, or perhaps even a house.

One of the hardest things to think about was how it felt. Once you had set your budget (a traumatic enough experience), there was a lot of salespersonship going on, on the virtues of new or second-hand, and about finding the piano that's right for you personally, and so forth; and a great deal of flattery towards the teenage boy who valiantly played his way up and down the price range in front of scores of other shoppers and sales assistants. But in the end, as a friend said to us, how can you have a relationship on first meeting? It takes time to develop.

And I think that is right. We are all feeling a bit overwhelmed by what we have done. We spent the entire weekend moving furniture and fifteen years of accumulated bookshelf chaos to make room for it (and we have made some major financial adjustments and sorting of priorities: essentially, music comes first!). But it feels like the beginning, rather than the glorious culmination of a difficult decision. Like a traditional arranged marriage between children, perhaps, which has every prospect of working well as we all grow into each other.

When Joel was born, he began as he went on, conversationally. He started by talking to us. "Ah, ah, ah", he said, as they lifted him out of my womb and placed him on the pillow next to me. As the piano came down the corridor, I felt as if I was being spoken to, in a very similar way. We all have a long way to go, together.

The box is only beginning.

8 comments:

WhatLadder said...

So exciting! We have not much been without piano in all my married life - at one point we had 2 pianos, although we had only one person who really played.

Wish we still lived up the road, as I would send my piano player down to help break it in for you.

If you need a tuner, talk to S. Mulready, because she has a guy.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

I am not letting Alex know that you have a baby grand (that is what you have?) because he is bugging us for one!

Pavlov's Cat said...

What a fabulous post. But where are the photos??!!

Stephanie Trigg said...

Actually, WL, I think this piano comes with its own tuner, for the first settling-in tune, at least. And we have a couple of guys who've come to the old upright. But yes, apparently, playing-in is exactly what's required at the moment.

JJC. Ahem. It's kind of a bit bigger than a baby. Not a gigantic concert grand, of course, but somewhere in between. More like a tall adolescent? But, you know, if you want Alex to practise... We only went down this track once J started getting really serious, doing at least an hour a day without prompting. And the sound is incredible.

PC, no working camera at the moment. And, you know, it would kind of feel a bit ostentatious? And they all look a bit the same, anyway. What you really need is to hear J improvising wildly and freely around Simon and Garfunkel's Frank Lloyd Wright, and to see the expression on his face and the movement of his hands.

Sarah Rees Jones said...

One of the best things in my life - no, the best thing - is waking up in the morning, going to sleep at night listening to my daughter play the piano in the room beneath me. Ours is a wonderfully mellow reconditioned old upright (still not cheap exactly) - perfect for the French impressionist music she loves so much. Enjoy!

(And JJC buy that piano - it doesn't have to be a grand!)

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

We own a piano, Sarah -- and I, like you, love to hear my children play it. When Alex went to West Virginia for camp for two weeks, the absence of piano music really got to me. Now our five year old is taking lessons, and the gusto with which she can hammer out Old McDonald Had a Farm is also inspiring.

The "problem" with our piano is that it's a reconditioned upright. Alex of course craves something, well, grander. We'd have to expand our house to fit it!

Stephanie Trigg said...

JJC, So, aren't you about to do some renovatin'?

I'm just reading Carhart's Piano Shop on the Left Bank. The narrator has discovered he does, after all, have room for a baby grand...

But yeah, nothing wrong with a good upright. You and Sarah are right: even with their mistakes, our children play in a way that moves their fond parents more than the most accomplished professional.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

We are renovating, it is true (we move out of the house next month, and will live nearby for 6 months) -- but the idea of adding a bigger piano is not one I am latching onto!