|analytical Q||Le Bon Journal||Journal entries||Search||Contact|
An old grand piano and its abandoned soul
Fed up with the ugly brown upright which I've been pounding relentlessly in preparation for my next concert, I decided to look for a grand piano in Holland. I was so desperate to get one that I could easily buy the first good grand that I see.
The tempting asking prices and photos of second-hand grand pianos on sale in the private market (on the Web) drove me to see a black Schiedmayer nearby.
The owner, a friendly Dutch man, said on the phone that he was selling it because he needed the space. He had bought it for his children to learn to play seven or eight years ago, but they've lost interest.
The owner had his family around on a Sunday afternoon when I arrived. But they all became quiet when I started playing the piano. It was as if they hadn't heard it being played before.
The vleugel (in Dutch) was indeed beautiful from a distance, a nice piece of furniture, the owner had said to me. Yet upon closer examination, I could see that it was very old. The black casing was bruised and no longer smooth. The ivory keys were cracked and uneven. Perhaps its only saving grace was the carved music stand, a feature that made the piano unique. Sadly, it had never been restored since its birth in 1880.
I played a simple cadence and knew instinctively that it was not the piano for me. I wanted to leave right away. Almost immediately, the owner gave me a glass of red wine, as if to encourage me to keep playing. With an audience eagerly waiting for more, I felt obliged to caress this old soul.
So I played a medley of Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Michael Nyman. Applause. Hurrah. Play some more. The piano woke up. For too long, it had sat in the corner of the front room as mere decoration.
I looked inside and noticed several long cracks in the sound board, the worst thing that can happen to old pianos. It would cost a fortune to restore, if it were at all possible.
The owner said that he had only advertised it for less than two weeks and already I was the third viewer. A student wanted to buy it for 1,000 Euros, but he felt he could get more than 3,000 for it. I wanted to scream, "Take it. Take it, before it's too late." A cracked sound board made the piano worthless, and he would be lucky to get a buyer.
I asked whether he had considered restoring it. He said,
"An old piano is like an old car. If you spend money restoring it, you might not want to drive it because it becomes so beautiful and expensive, and you don't want to damage it."
On the other hand, if you don't restore it, I thought to myself, it's just an abandoned soul with its potential lost in history.
Since neither the owner nor his children were musicians, they did not know the importance of restoration. Ignoring my suggestion of getting a professional to look at it, the owner did not seem the least perturbed that the piano needed restoration.
Perhaps the owner was reluctant to sell the vleugel because it looked good in his house. Perhaps he still hoped his children would play the piano. I wanted to tell him that a bad piano, however beautiful, is a worthless piano. Interact with it, and you will know right away. Look inside and you will see why.
Many years ago, I bought an old upright from a sixty-year old lady in Stoke Newington (London) who was getting married for the first time. She had inherited the upright from her parents, who had inherited it from their parents. The piano had stood the test of time and the stories of generations.
Seeing that I could play the piano, or perhaps that I brought a little bit of life into it, she begged me to buy it, for a mere pittance.
Out of sympathy, I reluctant bought it and spent weeks cleaning the cob webs and dust from its insides. I never liked the piano at first sight. I didn't like the way it looked or the way it sounded. And even when it was cleaned and polished, I still didn't love it. Because of my lack of love for it, I didn't want to play it. And soon I sold it to people who didn't know the difference between a good and a bad piano.
This time, I won't fall for abandoned pianos in need of a good home. I know what I want. And I know instinctively whether it's the right one, the minute I play it.
Finding a grand piano is like falling in love. If the minute you play it you love it, nothing can stop you from wanting it. Not even an old casing or an old soul. But if you don't love it the instant you play it, nothing will make you fall in love with it, no matter how beautiful it is.
29 March 2004 Monday
Related Bon Journal entries: