Archive for Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Shouts and murmurs

Old piano tuned up for new life

July 21, 2004

It's an old upright piano, the kind you'd expect to see in Miss Kitty's saloon in a rerun of "Gunsmoke."

When the ivory and ebony keys are tapped, the sound rings from the front and the entire piano vibrates. One leg was broken, there were a few coffee cup rings marring on the refinished oak-toned wood, and only one of the foot pedals worked.

It was nothing to write home about. But still, for a reason I don't understand, it seemed right.

The piano was free, and like a pet you want to adopt, it was from a loving home. The owners, who had bought this piano, used, about eight years ago, were replacing it with a new electric keyboard.

Our son had been wanting to learn to play the piano, so it made sense to start out with something inexpensive -- or in this case, free -- until we knew if he would stick with it.

"We'll take it," I said to the owners who had taken out a classified ad to give their piano away.

It's ironic that I, whose one specific request for a birthday present when I turned 13 was to be allowed to stop taking piano lessons -- would be going to the trouble to haul a piano home.

During the six years I took piano lessons, one of my life's goals was to avoid practicing. My days became a game of staying out of the living room when my mother was in there. I thought the mere presence of me and the piano in the same room would remind my mother that I was not where I should be -- at the piano.

Mom was militant about getting me to piano lessons.

"Someday you'll be glad you know how to play the piano," she often told me.

But there must've been times when she nearly gave up. My teachers, too, wearied at my disinterest.

One teacher signed the certificate on the last page of a John W. Schaum piano book with a disclaimer that I had not "passed with honors" as the certificate implied.

Despite my stubbornness, two unexpected things came out of the piano lessons.

I learned to play the piano moderately well.

And, as soon as I was allowed to quit taking lessons -- I began to play the piano in my spare time.

As a teen-ager when I'd play the piano in the evening, my father, who has a beautiful voice, would stand behind me, singing along.

Last week, my husband and two of our sons and I went to pick up the piano. Once we completed the treacherous task of taking it off truck and through the basement's walkout door, the musical beast was finally in place.

I pulled my old piano books out of storage -- some of them the same books I used to cart to piano lessons -- and attempted to play. Clearly, I needed to practice about as much as the piano needed to be tuned.

David Lovvorn, a Tonganoxie piano tuner, came out a couple nights later and brought the piano back to shape.

What the piano's history is is anybody's guess. But Lovvorn said it looked like, at one time or another the piano had had a sheet of tin across the front -- honky-tonk style.

Maybe, indeed, it was Miss Kitty's, after all.

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