Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Requiem for a player piano

When No. 2 daughter started piano lessons,7 or 8 years ago, we had only a dinky 4 octave keyboard, with tiny keys. So when our neighbor offered us her great-aunt's old player piano for sale, cheap, we gladly rolled it up the driveway and into the living room.

The piano was a WWI era dinosaur, standing 5 feet tall, and the ivory was falling off the keys; but it still worked. We heard hours of scales and beginners' classics, and then somebody would put on a roll of "On Wisconsin," followed by the Yale fight song. We tried some of the other rolls; but "On Wisconsin" was #1 on the hit parade. Then one of the kids found the tempo lever, and somehow "On Wisconsin" kept getting faster and faster. Somebody pushed the lever to "prestissimo" once too often, and it stuck.

#2 daughter forsook the piano the tuba, and then the "A" above middle C stuck. The tuner couldn't get at it without disassembling the entire player mechanism, and he didn't have the tools for removing the mechanism; this surgery would require a specialist. You can't play anything without "A" above middle C. And the piano could no longer be tuned. The tuner set it to a quarter tone flat; otherwise the frame would crack. Hard to learn to play that way. To get the instrument playable, except for being a quarter tone flat, would cost well over $3000. And so we closed the cover, and the piano gradually turned into a huge ugly end table.

#1 son started singing lessons last year. He started because the speech therapist suggested it for voice control. To his great surprise, he discovered that, not only could he sing, but he had two decent baritone octaves. He got by with the little keyboard, and he took a music theory class for fun this semester. Not having any piano skills, he still managed to compose a little waltz based on the call of the chickadee for his class. Last Saturday, he won a part in the chorus of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Ruddigore."

Meanwhile, a Chicago lawyer informed me that my late aunt Philippine had left me a modest legacy, and after two years of putzing they finally had gotten the will into probate. My modest legacy came in just in time to pay of a fat bill, replace the engine in the car the teenagers drive, and buy an electronic piano. It's slender and black, with a harpsichord and pipe organ and several other instruments programmed into it. Not top of the line; no frills. A Discontinued model that the piano store wanted OUT of their warehouse. They wanted the sale bad enough that they agreed to take the dinosaur out. Today the music store delivered it.

The delivery men have handled many pianos. The skinny guy with the droopy mustache and long grey hair looked at the brand and groaned; it was a notoriously heavy brand. They wrestled it onto a dolly. The guy asked, "Want to kiss it goodbye?" I almost did.

#2 daughter came home, dug out her old piano books, and tried to remember how treble clef works. Everybody else had their turn; we have to remind #2 son that changing from organ to harpsichord in the middle of a line isn't good for the piano. We have music again.

--Mrs. James

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