Friends, do you play an instrument?
There is just something about music, no? It’s transcendent.
I started playing piano late, at age 11. There were two stores, at opposite ends of the mall, which sold pianos. Our family made multiple round trips one weekend, listening to salesmen play the ebony Yamaha upright at one place, then the walnut Kawai upright at the other. It had taken me a year, but I finally committed to practicing daily, and my parents agreed to invest in a good instrument. I knew instantly that it must be the Kawai. Somehow it took the ‘rents a few more tries (I was very patient—the stakes were high, as I was the one who had to play it) before they finally agreed. I have always loved that piano.
Into high school, practice flagged often. But I kept my commitment until volleyball and AP classes took over the waking hours of life. By then my sisters had started playing, so I was let out of my contract early. Looking back, it was only a slog at the beginning of any practice session. Sitting down begrudgingly, intending to play for the minimum required time, I always stayed longer, feeling more relaxed and just a little more accomplished when I stood back up. I did not realize it at the time, but playing piano soothed me. Thankfully my mom pointed it out at some point, and I appreciated the experience that much more.
I was never a very good pianist. Reading music was never easy or natural. I had no patience to master music theory. But I saved the music for certain pieces that I loved—Fur Elise, Pachelbel’s Canon in D (played to accompany the Mixed Choir singing The First Noel my sophomore year), and a Sonatina by Clementi. Still, I did not play for at least 20 years.
My son wanted to play trumpet. I waited. Then he wanted to play violin, and I waited some more. How about piano? YES. No mall, no local piano store. But there was one place in a suburb close to church. We went to see the cherry upright that I saw on the website. It looked shabby and sounded terrible. Looking around the crowded front showroom, no other pieces appealed to me in the least. There was one walnut Kawai baby grand… The sound was full, round, and resonant, like a true Kawai. But it was outside of my price range. The salesman looked at me a while, as if discerning something. Then he took me to the back, where another Kawai baby grand stood in the corner, an ebony one. Recently refinished, you could still see water rings and long, shallow cracks in the wood of the music shelf. The bottom edge of the key bed had a series of almond-shaped dents, as if it had slid down a flight of stairs once. It took about five seconds after hearing it played for me to buy it, cash.
Since 2011 our house has enjoyed the sounds of children learning to play music on Uncle Kawai. The tuner said it was made in 1969, and the keys had never been eased. Apparently Uncle had never had a home where he could showcase his full potential. He was waiting for us. Over the years I have occasionally sat down, pulled out my old sheet music, practiced a few minutes here and there. Never enough time, always something else I had to go do.
This summer I finally undertook to learn Canon in C, which both kids have now played. It’s a short, exceedingly simple variation on the theme, and yet sublimely beautiful to hear. It’s even more glorious to play first-hand. Even over the parts where I always stumble on the fingering, even though Uncle really needs another tuning, playing these two pages of music calms me, gives me joy, in a way no other activity can.
I’m always better when I’m calm and happy.
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