The Tale of the Piano

Thursday night.  It’s been a few days since I had the time and energy to write.  It’s not that late, but I don’t feel particularly energetic.  Today was active, beginning with the arrival of our piano tuner, followed almost immediately by my usual lunch, this time with three of the four attending.  A little rest when I came home, then supper preparation and into the evening.

Where last I left off, I was starting to talk about our piano.  I’ll pick up that thread.

Early in our marriage, our finances were, to put the matter gently, strained.  I knew that Carol very much wanted a piano.  She grew up with one in her house, her mother played, and she herself learned on it.

Not being able at that time to afford a piano, I instead bought a refrigerator magnet in the form of a grand as a promise that some day we would have an instrument, most likely not a grand, but a serviceable one that she could play.  Eventually, we reached the point where our finances permitted the purchase of a used Musette, circa approximately 1930.  It offered a nice cabinet and matching bench, both featuring spindles and curved legs that somehow, at least to me, suggested something musical.  And it produced  decent sound.

Carol happily began reacquainting her fingers with the keyboard, working on, I recall, the Moonlight Sonata and Pachelbel’s Canon.  I enjoyed listening to her play and to see how happy she was.  We started lessons for our daughter.

The piano moved with us to Michigan.  However, we did not hire a piano mover  Rather it came along with the rest of our belongings.

It did not survive the trip well.

Which leads to the particular piano tuner who arrived this morning to work on it.

Will pick this up next writing session.  I think it is leading to something good.

Sunday night near midnight after a cool and rainy weekend.  The weather cannot seem to make up its mind as we slide into June.

Where I left the piano story off, the instrument was installed in our new house awaiting to be tuned after its thousand mile trip in the moving van.  However, the tuner we hired declared that its sound board was now cracked, and he could not tune it.   Somehow we managed to get it into the garage without having made a decision as to what to do with it.

Carol still wanted to play so we purchased an electronic piano.  She never liked its sound although I enjoyed its ability to emulate various instruments, such as a harpsichord.  That was not enough to keep it so we gave it to Carol’s sister.

I am compressing time to keep this moving along to its point, which I hope to reach before I forget what it is.

The piano from New York remained in the garage as we still neither came up with a plan for it nor felt particularly motivated to resolve the situation.

Until we needed that space in the garage.

Rather than figure out how to get rid of it, sell it, junk it somehow, whatever, I decided to revisit the question of whether it could be made to play in tune.  To that end, I got in touch with local jazz pianist Jeff Haas and asked him who was the best available tuner.  He recommended Brant Leonard, the tuner who came a few days ago to once again work on the piano.

When he first came years ago, he checked the piano in the garage, declared that, of course, he could tune it, it was just a question of getting the tension on the strings right. My recollection is that he then, by himself, moved the piano back to its original location in the house.

The piano, though, remains difficult to keep in tune, primarily Brant says, because it sits in front of baseboard heating, which dries its wood every winter, loosening the pegs that hold the string wires.

And there really is no other place in the house to which it can be moved.

Now, we are getting to the point of this story.  Why did I, knowing how difficult the piano is to tune, and that I will not be able to keep it in tune over the winter without heroic, and at this time, ridiculously difficult, effort that involves sliding it out of its place every morning to fill up the humidifier that will keep it from drying out, and there is no doubt  that I will find that chore too burdensome as I did last winter, and very likely will not do it–why in view of all that did I arrange once again for Brant to tune it on the same day he was tuning our neighbor’s piano?

True, as long as he was coming out here, and since he charges travel time, we could split that part of his bill and both save a little money.

Which begs the question as to why I would want to tune it.

Carol of course is not going to play it.

I can play a little.  I had a couple of years of indifferent lessons when I was about ten and much more interested in playing ball in the streets than practicing the piano.  Still, I was always a good sight reader, as my teacher so many years ago declared while suggesting that I should try practicing between his lessons.  With some effort I can still read as long as things don’t get too complicated.

Getting too late to continue.  Will try to finish this section tomorrow.

Tuesday night.  Yesterday left me with no energy to write.  The morning was ordinary enough, but then I had an appointment with the dermatologist in the early afternoon.  She saw spots on my head that could have been new, or the remnants of those she had removed some time ago.  To be safe, she hit them with liquid nitrogen producing an effect very much akin to having an axe cleave your skull.  I went home with a serious, lingering headache.  Rested for a while, and then Kyle came for what was to be his last session.  He said we had a few paid sessions left, and he thought it prudent to save them, particularly in light of his conclusion, to which I assented, that he had done what could be done to that point but other circumstances requiring his assistance might come up.

Back to the piano story.  I have to add, as memory now insists, details in this evolving tale.  Early on in dementia’s attack on Carol, when we had no clear idea of what we were dealing with, when we both believed she was just suffering the after effects of chemo, which would wear off in time, she very much wanted to resume playing the piano.  But she was having difficulty remembering how to find the right keys.  That should have told us we were dealing with something quite serious, but we were ignorant, perhaps willfully so.  She tried taking lessons.  They didn’t take very well.  We stopped by a music store in town to get sheet music with which she could practice.  She was thrilled, telling the owner of the shop that he had given her back something precious.

But he hadn’t of course.

She still couldn’t play.

With the piano again in tune thanks to Brant’s wizardry, I sat at the keyboard from time to time seeing if I could learn to play Beethoven’s Waltz for Gertrude. Which, I have learned, Beethoven probably did not write.  No matter.  It seemed within my limited reach.

I played it.  Sort of.  After a while I could read the notes and connect them to the keys and I liked the sound.

I was kind of making music.

Carol could still hear when I hit a wrong note, and she would not hesitate to tell me.

I think I can now bring this meandering tale to a focus and to its point.

To do so, I have to answer the question already posed as to why I, at this late date, had this failing piano tuned yet one more time.

I believe the answer is composed of several threads, one of which is most important.  First, I still want to work on Gertrude even though I have little time or energy for practice.

Second, and this is getting closer to the main thread.  Building on my interest in playing, even badly, I am doing something very specifically for myself.  Carol is unaware.  She does not point out my wrong notes.

Third, as a corollary, the tuned piano represents a kind of transition, a bridge from the Carol past to the Steve future.  It is both a reminder of Carol’s attachment to the instrument she can no longer play and a glimpse at my life ahead.

When I will make decisions looking forward rather than back.

To be clear, I do not envision developing  a serious interest in playing the piano.  I may never tune this instrument again.  And if I don’t I won’t replace it either.  That decision most likely will mark another step in the process.

The process of leaving behind the then, moving through the now, into the new future.

What is clear, though, is that I will carry into our past into that future. That will be a mixture of necessary pain sweetened, I trust, but also a little comfort.

Note: since I drafted this post, the piano has again fallen out of tune: the E above middle C is seriously out.  The piano is well on its way to becoming no more than a piece of furniture.

A stubborn reminder of what was, and an indicator, perhaps, of what will not be.

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