My grandparents gave me a piano over 40 years ago. I was about 5 years old. I had shown an interest in playing any and every keyboard that was near me. If I was in a church, I found eventually found my way to the piano. I loved to play on my aunt’s old pump organ. The neighbor girls were teaching me how to play on the piano in their dining room. I’ll never forget the day Grandma and Grandpa followed the truck carrying my piano to our house. Through eight houses or apartments, that old piano has been a part of my life. I have pictures of me, my grandma, and my great-grandma sitting together on the bench. There is another picture of my sweet dog, Susie, sitting next to 8-year-old me while I practiced my lesson. My parents and I posed on the bench one year for our Christmas card photo. My long gone pets, Abe, Hank, Pete, Puffy, and Violet all sat by my side as I played. Boo and Pepper sit on the same bench now.
A bust of Beethoven sits on the back of the piano. The bust is the result of my childhood obsession with Peanut’s Schroeder. While shopping with my mom, I saw it in a furniture store. I was probably 10 or 11 years old, and I saved $42.50 to pay for it by myself. Beethoven is still one of my prized possessions. He’s seen me through a lot of years and a lot of music. I’ve dusted his aquiline nose hundreds of times.
When I was in college, I taught piano lessons at a local music store to earn spending money. I played for fun and sometimes for weddings or funerals. When we got married, I taught T to play a little. He was one of my most hopeless students, although we did learn to play a couple of fun duets together.
When the older kids were in grade school, I taught them to play. Eventually, they took lessons from a teacher until they chose to concentrate on other instruments. We spent many evenings playing together and singing old songs. Luke had a passion for civil war ballads, and he often asked me to play after dinner while he sang along. Andrew learned to play the guitar and quickly became adept at transferring guitar chords to the keyboard. He taught me to play in a way that my classical training had skipped.
When the kids were in middle and high school, I accompanied them and their friends on vocal and instrumental solos. For a number of years, I accompanied dozens of kids at regional music contests. Those were fun, and nerve-wracking, times helping young people master their fear of performing in front of friends, family and judges. I spent many hours practicing at home and with the students. I played until my fingertips bled, and I used Super Glue to stick the cracks back together so I could play even more.
Then the kids grew up and moved on. I still played the old piano, but now I played alone. I revisited my favorite classical pieces, and I began to learn jazz chords and improvisation. Eventually, my main concentration turned to new instruments. Then my love of music seemed to evaporate and was ignored as my life moved in other directions. The old keyboard was there still there to soothe me, though, from time to time. I returned to the keyboard after a stressful day of work or during times of sadness. My playing was rusty. My enjoyment was less.
When I moved, I missed the piano, but T told me that it couldn’t be moved one more time. It was too old. One of the front legs was cracked. It needed new pads and wouldn’t stay in tune for very long. He suggested that we sell it on the auction. While I was reluctant, I knew he was right. I liked the idea of getting a brand new piano, or maybe even not getting one at all. After all, I rarely played. I couldn’t justify the expense of a new piano. After all of these years, maybe it was time to give it up.
For almost six months, I lived without a piano in my house. When I went back home to visit, I always spent some time playing. Still, I was ready to let go. I didn’t care anymore about the scratched up old thing. We were getting rid of so many things. We were lightening the load. This was the time to learn to let go. It seemed logical to get rid of the old piano that so often went unplayed.
When the movers arrived with our furniture, I was thrilled and surprised to see the old piano on the truck. T hadn’t been able to tell them to leave it behind. Of all the belongings I had lived without for six months, I was most excited to see the scratched up old piano. Beethoven was carefully wrapped and waiting for his place above the keyboard. While I haven’t played much since the move, I have spent some time revisiting a few old favorites.
This past week, our newest student has taken to the old piano. Lola has been learning to read music, and she began to teach herself to play a few songs. For the past two nights, she and I have sat on the old bench where generations of my family (and pets) have posed for pictures, made music, and sang songs. Beethoven watches from above with a look of approval on his face as another little girl falls in love with music and with the old piano.