As I sit here, writing this post, a dear friend is tuning my lovely old piano. It has been almost my entire marriage (it will be eight years in August) since it was last tended to and I’m finding it to be quite the treat. You see, this piano is the sum of my life in many aspects. Much hurt has been caused by my having this family heirloom and it’s probably the only item I’ve ever held in such esteem that I selfishly put my foot down about and proclaimed I had every right to it. I did not bend when confronted by other notions of ownership. [To be clear there was no disputing it between my mother, the previous owner, and myself.]
The story of the piano, as it pertains to my life, began when I was young. My sister, mother and I took piano lessons and, over the years, I was the one that stuck by it. Music was a balm for me often in spite of my episodes of cursing when I struck a chord with one wrong note. And so, over the years, this piano was my constant, even if it was somewhat neglected. I was quite grateful when it came time for me to move away from my parents and the piano was allowed to come with me.
It’s an old instrument, over one hundred years old, and something my dearly departed Grandfather had been raised with as well. The soundboard is wood, the keys are ivory and it’s a gloriously heavy upright weighing in around 8-900 lbs. More than that, the sound has more warmth than the modern Yamaha uprights I would practice on when I studied music at my community college. The most important aspect of this instrument, I think , is that it recalls to mind a duet played with my grandfather (him on flute) or even those more morose moments of playing the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata while the rain pounded outside the windows and I was left to my solitude.
Memories, unseen until the keeper of them puts them to words, are part of what connects me to this instrument, but when you open an old piano such as this for tuning you can see its march through time with its own scars. Little parts are slightly different than the original giving testament to its age as well as how very much living it has done. Much of it is astonishingly original. Straps and pulleys have been replaced every now and again, but even now it maintains its spirit, vivacity and continues to astound me with the stories it can spin with tone and beauty. Life marks us all and, in this way, I think of how it marks humanity. How it can mark characters in the books we love, the authors who write those books and, perhaps most importantly, ourselves.
There are always choices one can make in how we carry these marks. Do we want to make the best of them, to build ourselves up from such events making the pitch and tone of our melodies stronger, more radiant and telling; or do we bow under pressure and allow each string to slowly go out of tune, an intentional disharmony that clings to the air like the scent of refuse?
Seeing this instrument dissected, being tended to by a woman who holds such reverence for the capabilities of it as well as the craftsmanship, leads me to hope I forever remain committed to making the most of things. That my life melody, though it may not sound as bright as it did in the beginning stages of life, that it convey the depth of my experiences with honesty, integrity and a message of hope to those who come after.
I leave with you these two pieces of music, vastly different in emotionality, but whole in the very teeming life they unflinchingly own and communicate. Enjoy!