Pianos. Elegant, upright pianos, just waiting for someone to play them, to
make them sing in beautiful harmony. They are rotting away in the
unfinished basements of a thousand suburban homes.
Heirlooms, perhaps. Passed down from grandparents, aunts, and uncles
who played them once long ago. Maybe they used to invite people over
back in those days to play music and sing songs and get drunk on
bathtub gin and good cheer. The ivories were tickled, once. But the
people who played got old and died of cancer or emphysema or cardiac
arrest. The pianos outlived them.
Today’s suburban adults remember the piano in their parents’ house. Back
when they were barely tall enough to climb on the bench and idly mash the
real-dead-elephant ivories. Wondering of its purpose when you could get
all the music you wanted from the radio. By the time they leave for
college the piano has become grotesquely out of tune, each key sounding a
sour phased note as if the piano has become senile. But nobody thinks of
getting rid of it. You just can’t throw away a piano.
Eventually the piano is dumped into a suburban basement after the passing
of a dear relative. Today’s suburban adults wax nostalgic for an era when
everyone could play, an era they themselves never saw. They hire a piano
tuner: a blustery old man who sniffs and harrumphs at the piano’s decay.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” the suburbanites swoon. “It was my
grandmother’s. It’s a real antique but won’t it sound as good as the
day it was built when you’re through with it?” The piano tuner says
nothing and works his magic with tuning forks and a strong wrench,
coaxing the instrument back to life. Blowing away cobwebs and removing
the skeletal remains of a dead mouse behind the stuck middle-C hammer.
The suburban parents inflict upon their children their misplaced
desire to play and begin piano lessons. Once a week a sallow-cheeked
spinster comes to visit and advocates a curriculum of major and minor
scales. Soft, loud. In every key. On top of this a prescription of
sight reading of Bach and Brahms and the works of other dead people.
Playing music is reserved for those who have earned the right by
grinding through interminable exercises. To play pop music is
inconceivable. Elton John was a gimmick.
The children do their mandatory minimum hours of practice on the pain
of lost dessert or reduced television hours. Playing is work. Why
should it be anything else? A digital timer sounds at the end of a
practice period and the kids rush off to play Rock Band.
Eventually homework displaces piano practice and the adults, having
not seen the signs of a Mozart in their midst, are eager to cancel the
lessons which have filled their home with nothing but stumbling scales
The piano stays in the basement. You can’t cart a piano to the dump.
Are you some kind of monster? Who wants a piano? Low price OBO. Pick
it up yourself. Somebody, somewhere, wants to play, right?