When I was little someone gave my mother an old but sonorous upright piano, which she decided to put in our kitchen. Perhaps this was an odd resting place for the behemoth. But our kitchen was huge, like all the other rooms in our Victorian home, and it was a convenient spot for her if she felt like playing while keeping an eye on the stove.
I was magnetically drawn to this piano. I have a distinct memory of my six-year-old body wriggling on the butt-polished swivel stool, perched on a thick Yellow Pages phonebook, while my mother did dishes and prepared dinner in the background.
I can see myself gazing at the music stand propping up John Thompson’s introductory piano book. I recall the excitement I felt looking at the mysterious language reflected on its pages. It spoke of a magical world awaiting me.
My mother took a few moments to show me the seven ivory keys that comprise the Key of C and pointed out Middle C itself, which is the central note on the keyboard. Then she went back to her work and I started Lesson One to figure out the rest.
Everything about musical notation intuitively made sense to me. I easily deciphered that a whole note of four beats had the same value as two half notes of two beats or four quarter notes of one beat. I “grokked” the math.
Throughout my childhood, piano was my go-to entertainment. I spent countless hours playing and teaching myself increasingly complex pieces. I never tired of the challenge to improve my skills and loved expressing the beautiful work of classical composers.
When I was nine, we moved to another Victorian home, and in the new house the upright piano was placed in my father’s enormous den. I can still picture his large wooden desk and the French paneling on the walls. The musty Asian wool rug on the unfinished hardwood floors. The floor-to-ceiling windows lined by heavy drapes, and old-fashioned radiators interspersed around the perimeter. It was a quintessential den, and a very cozy place to be when I had the room to myself.
The piano was older now, of course, and it no longer held perfect tune, but I still loved its resonance and my ability to play it LOUDLY when my pubescent emotions were inspired. The den’s thick wooden French doors were a natural soundproof barrier shielding the rest of the household from my exuberant bouts of forte.
Then, when I was twelve, something miraculous happened.
My grandfather, quite unexpectedly and inexplicably, decided to bequeath to me his mint condition Mason & Hamlin baby grand piano. He even paid to have it delivered to our doorstep. What prompted him to give his treasure to me is an unsolved mystery. We weren’t close. I barely knew him. It wasn’t Christmas, or my birthday. It was just something he decided to do.
While Mom’s old piano remained in the den, my piano commanded the prime real estate of our very spacious and elegant living room. It was a showpiece to behold. And the acoustics were phenomenal.
I cannot overstate how much I loved that piano. First, it was solely mine. Second, its tone was mellifluous to the ears and soothing to the soul. It transported me to a sound of music so beautiful I can only describe it as heavenly, mystical, spellbinding. No instrument could be more exquisitely expressive.
Within months of receiving this precious gift, my father announced we were moving again.
This time we were moving to a much smaller house in Upstate New York and my parents advised us that a lot of what we owned would not be coming with us. After a brief panic, I was reassured that there would be a place for my piano. There was a small room on the main floor of the new house between the dining room and the living room. My parents dubbed it The Piano Room. It was aptly named because literally it filled the entire square footage of the space.
Then, just as we were getting settled into the new home, something devastating happened.
The old farmhouse needed a new roof badly, and it was my father’s priority to replace it. This was a big undertaking and he was doing the work by himself. It was a job that couldn’t be done in one day.
So, he worked in stages over a few days. The new roof was nearing completion, but one small area still stripped of its old shingles remained, and there wasn’t enough time left in the day to tack on the new shingles. Dad checked the weather forecast, which called for zero percent chance of rain. He was relieved and confident it was safe to leave this part of the roof unprotected. He would finish the job the following day.
Before doppler radar was routinely available, weather forecasting wasn’t exactly exact. Unfortunately, on this day the weatherman completely botched his prediction. A surprise thunderstorm rolled through in the early morning hours and dumped a deluge of rain. Sadly, the only roof area not shingled happened to be the very spot directly over the piano room.
My nightmare dawned with the realization that inches of water had pooled in the body of my piano overnight. My father felt terrible, of course. But the damage was done.
Some may not realize that pianos are quite delicate. Water destroys the soundboard, disintegrates the felt pads, and rusts the metal strings. After the piano dried out, we tried to tune it, to replace damaged pads and strings, but the soundboard was irretrievably warped. There was no way to bring this extraordinary instrument back to life. Its sweet tone was extinguished forever.
My beautiful piano was ruined.