age, childhood, family, history, house, London, Michael J Redford, music, piano, reading, singing, sound, the Boats of Vallisneria, time, tone, walnut, World War
An Old Piano
It will not last much longer now, thought I as I gazed at our old piano standing proudly under a reproduction of ‘The Haywain’. Yes, despite its age it is still a proud instrument, even if it has lost one or two accoutrements such as the candle-sticks that were once hinged to the front panels and the tiny mother of pearl centre of a marquetry flower. Even so, it still stands firm and erect, defiant in its appearance of time. Of course it has been well looked after having been under constant attack from polish and duster and tuned with religious regularity ever since it came into our home.
The old walnut upright was bought for £6 just before the Second World War and although I was four or five years old at the time, I cannot recall its arrival in our midst. I can remember many things down to the age of three, but this piano for some reason had crept into my life so unobtrusively that it may well have been part of the family for generations. Mother had the ability to read music as easily as I can read a book, it was therefore a natural development that both my brother and I should undergo tuition. My brother was the first to sit scowling in concentration beside the music teacher every Thursday night, and I followed suit a couple of years later. Soon little hands were struggling stodgily through ‘The Bluebells of Scotland’ and ‘Minuet in G’, which was a great step forward from the time when my only contribution to the world of music came from putting the cat upon the keyboard.
One evening a year or so ago, while I was browsing through the keyboard discovery new chords and chord sequences, I hurled myself into an impressive arpeggio up the scale and finally landed on top E flat with a dull and toneless plunk. This had a most deflationary effect and I sat back in shocked silence. After composing myself, I explored the dark, humming interior of the piano and discovered a broken string that had coiled itself tightly around its neighbour in a final fit of frenzy, having succumbed at last to the continued battering of a felt-tipped hammer. Since then, the strings have been breaking at the rate of approximately one every three months. The pitch has dropped so much it cannot be brought up again, the tome has taken on a peculiar twang that is somewhat reminiscent of an Indian sitar and when the loud pedal condescends to operate (more often than not it seizes up completely), it does so in creaking protest which somehow doesn’t quite fit in with ‘La Mer’ or a nocturne in E minor.
It cannot last much longer now. This morning I lifted the lid softly and peeped in and saw that it needed re-felting, and in one dark corner was a tiny but ominous mound of sawdust. I do not know the age of our piano for it came into our possession second hand, therefore it may not be as old in years as I imagine. But even if it isn’t old in years, it is certainly old in use, for it has been played upon almost every single day for the past twenty five years. I will not, therefore, feel ashamed should a silent tear fall when that sad day of parting eventually arrives.
I have often toyed with the idea of keeping it even when every note has hammered its last, and retiring our faithful friend to the front room. But pianos are large instruments and I shall undoubtedly want another and there is certainly not enough room for more than one piano in this house. How is it that one can become so attached to an old piece of furniture? It is of course the associations and memories that bind them to us tighter than any cord, and what sort of memories can a piano bring but happy ones. Memories of distant family gatherings when no one thought of the inevitable days of parting to come; birthday parties that were once looked forward to; carols at Christmas. The piano on such occasions was the centre of all things, chairs, settees and stools were turned to face it and the congregation gathered around the walnut alter.
I remember the family gatherings twenty five years ago that brightened the dark, oppressive evenings of war. I hear father playing his banjo-uke and mother at the piano singing ‘Arm in Arm Together’ and reviving the then old songs ‘Chorus Gentlemen – Just Once More’ and ‘Shipmates O’ Mine. The strings of this old piano have vibrated to ‘Cornsilk’, through a feeble attempt at Rachmaninoff’s second to ‘Oo Bop Shebam’. During the war when this old instrument lived with us in London, the ceiling fell on it more than once and bombs showered it with glass from the windows. And yet it played on. It has been a wonderful friend but, like every member of the family, it has played its part and must soon leave us.
I feel kindly towards a house that has a piano for then a house becomes a home, but without a piano a house has an emptiness about it, to me it is incomplete. I know that this certainly holds true for my house, and each time I play upon its creaking frame, the increasing tenderness with which my fingers touch the keys must surely expose my feelings towards a dear friend who will very soon be gone.
read the collected work as it is published: here
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reading wormhole: breakfast
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