This Old Piano

When I sit down on our piano bench, the piano nearly 60 years old now, I am comfortable enough. I always was. Even when I sweated out my half hour a day of practice in small kid time, two years of lessons down the drain.

It was disappointing, not to be able to get better. Not that my heart wasn’t in it. I can’t say I resented being forced to take lessons, but to get better, no matter how hard you practice, you need talent. That I did not have.

Even after I came back from Wisconsin, chose on my own to take lessons again, and even with hours and hours of practice every day, I could not improve. The first time I disappointed you, the second time it was me letting myself down. What the heart wants most, may never come, often does not, I think.

I had the piano tuned for the first time in nearly 15 years. It needed to be done. Not that I would know, but a friend of mine, visiting from Connecticut, an accomplished pianist, told me that it was definitely out of tune.

So I had it done. As I wrote the check to the tuner, I asked him if he were able to tune it, what with the strings being so old.

He told me that, no, he couldn’t bring it up to standard tuning precisely because the strings, many of them, he thought, would break. What he’d done instead was tune the piano to itself, choosing to start at middle C and then adjust all the other strings to fit that note. Ingenious, I thought, but disappointing. To change all the strings was too expensive a proposition for me. I let it go.

But I still plink away on it from time to time. And if my friend from Connecticut or my sister ever come back to Hawai‘i and want to play it, at least it’ll be “tuned,” so to speak.

“How often should a piano be tuned?” I asked him. He said it should be every year. To honor you, then, I’ll do that as long as I’m around.

That bench, not padded as well as I’m sure it could be, reminds me of the pews at our old church, the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. I used to remark to myself, Sunday after Sunday, that even though you could almost slide from one end to the other – and those babies were maybe twelve feet long – the seats being so highly and religiously polished, they were like very smooth rocks, boasting a higher Mohs Hardness Scale number accordingly. Those sermons were looong. And the rocks grew harder with each passing word of wisdom.

I wonder how long I could sit on our piano bench? How long could I last now? Maybe not a lot of hours anymore, at least not all those hours I practiced my brains out after I came back home. Now I sit there long enough to clean it, polish it. The piano looks brand new, and when you pop open the top – it’s a spinet – the smell is a fresh wood smell. Not pine or spruce, but generic wood scented.

That old piano and its bench. They’ve been with us since my elementary school days, and I don’t know where they will be after I’m gone, whether my niece and nephew will keep them and the house intact, or whether someone will buy them, take them away to a new home, afford new strings so more generations may try their hands at playing decently, blessed with a modicum of talent.

This bench, this piano, it’s not really like I own them now, maybe we never did. More, it’s like I’m a caretaker, maybe only renting them for a while on their journey into an unknown future, passing hands who knows for how many generations to come.

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