Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Piano For Sale


Charming vintage piano for sale. 

This is a perfect instrument for family singalongs, a budget-minded maestro, or a youngster taking lessons. After many happy years in our home, it's ready to move on. Beautiful dark wood original  cabinetry. In need of a a tune but otherwise excellent condition. 

$150 OBO

* * * * *

Living inside me, I'm entirely convinced, is an as-yet undiscovered pianist of considerable competency and passion. 

How do I know this?

Because my mother possessed remarkable skill as a pianist, and I do believe she passed the gift on to me.

My mother's early training focused on the classics, and she cut her teeth on all the masters. In the later years of her life, Chopin brought her great peace. 

Now to be sure, her journey played out a bit differently than mine. She was born, like me, as the daughter of a passionate pianist, but her mother - my grandmother, Clara - took up her daughter's burgeoning musical aptitude at an early age. 

By the time she was three years old, my mother was reading music and playing three-part pieces with her mom and older sister on the family piano. 

Yes. Three years old. 

My mom's childhood was a blur of piano lessons down in South Bend, Indiana, the closest cultural center to her sleepy southwest Michigan hometown. Thanks to her mother's urging and her father's hard work, my mom also studied the violin and later, the trombone. She was a prominent vocalist in the local churches, and along with her sister, gained admission to several prestigious summer music programs in Chicago. But it was the piano where my mom's musicality found its best expression. 

As a typical teenager, my mom's tastes turned to the avant garde and George Gerswin was at the top of her list. 

According to my father, she turned down a career as a professional pianist. 
And my mom told me more than once that, at my dad's urging, she'd used her savings toward a baby grand to provide the down payment on their first home. 

My father had a profoundly deleterious effect on my mother's musical expression, and stole it from her life for decades. 

And maybe all of those factors add up to an explanation as to why my mom didn't encourage me toward the piano. 

But in any case, that's how my story unfolded. Piano lessons were never an option for me.

When I hit middle school, Mom did suggest that I join the band. So I decided to try the B flat cornet. For three years, I enjoyed learning to read music and was only beginning to understand the process by which one coaxed true music from such an instrument when the social implications of my school's band culture cut against my carefully cultivated self-image. 

So I quit band and laid my cornet aside. My tenure as a musician came to an abrupt end. 

* * * * *

Years passed. Once her kids were raised and her discretionary income grew, my mom finally bought herself that long-awaited piano. For the first time, I witnessed her playing. Fascinated, I realized that my mom was one of those musicians who can sit down at a piano, poise her fingers above the keys, and simply begin to play.

If sheet music was at hand, she could sight read her way through pretty much anything, and make it look easy.

And from memory, she could pull up endless compositions, and play with flawless style. 

This came as quite a shock to me, and I was duly impressed. 

This is the music my mom played for her elders at the nursing home. 
To my eyes, this book reads hopelessly old-fashioned and laughably obsolete, 
but to her listeners, it was the soundtrack of their lives. 

My mom took her rejuvenated talents to work. 

As an elementary school teacher in an era of endless so-called extra curricular cut-backs, my mom became the music lady at Spencer Road Elementary and soon led generations of kids in all-school sings; annual productions of the 1970s anti-gender-stereotyping artistic movement, Free To Be...You and Me; and rousing choruses of the school fight song, which she had penned herself. 

A choral director friend who knew of her gifts recruited my mom to accompany her group's holiday performance of the Messiah, which jump-started a decade of church performances. Breezily tossing off cantatas right and left, my mom's classical foundations and technical gifts roared all the way back into life.

And in a sentimental turn of fate, during my grandmother's brief stint in a nursing home - she was 96 years old when she moved in but felt guilty about enjoying this life of leisure because surely someone else who was 'older' needed the help more than she did - my mom became the resident pianist for weekly singalongs. She took requests for all the old standards, and played back the happy memories of years gone by for the delighted residents. Even after my grandmother peacefully passed, Mom kept up her weekly song fests until her own battle with Lewy Body Dementia took away this joy.

* * * * *

When my own daughters came along, I was determined to open some musical doors for them.

We started out with the Kindermusik program, which introduces music appreciation, theory, basic instruments, and songs from around the world in a playful format to a handful of young children at a time. These were wonderful times, and the best way I could ever have imagined to introduce my girls to the joys of musicianship.

When my eldest was seven years old, she wanted to try piano. Happily, we tracked down a well-used and much-loved instrument and sent her to lessons. She enjoyed it for a time, as did two of the other three daughters, but in time, their passions faded and the piano fell into disuse.

We moved it to the garage. 

And we began to talk about selling the piano. 

The rationalizations filled my ears: What's the point of having a piano if no one plays it, right?  In order to make it fit back in the house, you'd have to rework the furniture in an entire room. Someone else would truly appreciate it. You should just let it go.

But whenever I seriously consider selling that piano, deep inside me, a powerful voice keeps rising up. 

Keep the piano and learn to play, it tells me. You were born to play. 

And so, for at least fifteen years, the piano has been waiting for me to make up my mind. 

* * * * *

Today, at long last, I struck a deal with myself and it goes like this:

I'm ready to pass the piano along to someone who can put it to immediate use. I'm putting it up for sale. 

When I'm ready, I'll buy a basic, portable, easy-to-store electronic keyboard and learn to play.

And then, if I really do locate and free my inner pianist, I 'll give myself full permission to buy her the lovely new piano that she deserves. 

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