Old Keys and Memories

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It's one of my favorite places in the house. It's not pretty, and I'm not sure it ever was.  It was built to be sturdy and functional through all kinds of abuse, not decorative.

It stands taller than I am, which isn't hard, given my height.  It's painted a dull, medium brown and there's almost no ornamentation.  It's plain, probably the plainest, cheapest model available at the time. It's also an antique.

The stories that I've heard about it involved my grandfather paying $15.00 to haul it away from a local bar that takes its name from the fact that it is right next to the border of the neighboring state. If you walk across the parking lot you will go from one state to another.  It spent the first two years in its new home relegated to the freezing back porch, where it lay strewn in pieces on the floor while my grandpa cleaned it and did what he could to restore it. Finally, he was given an ultimatum, either get it into working order or get rid of it entirely. He chose to perservere.

Eventually, it was moved from the porch to one of the back bedrooms.  It was mostly just a fixture in our house, a piece of furniture that was slightly more entertaining to poke at than any of the others.  That all changed when I was eight years old.

That was the year that I asked for piano lessons, and the massive old upright piano became more than just a space hog in the back room.  The keys have not weathered well. The veneers have chipped, cracked, and broken away, leaving mottled, moon-crater surfaces of yellowed plastic and pitted wood.  The half-step keys remain a stark contrast in their still ebony perfection.  They're a proud marker of resiliance on the battle-scarred old veteran waiting in the back room.

Parts of them were a little sharp for small, pudgy fingers. I learned staccato notes easily to avoid the pain of playing middle A. Gradually, I grew. Ten years of piano lessons gave me an appreciation for the people who choose music as a career and broke my piano teacher's heart when I said I wasn't one of them.  

The music part of it, I loved, coaxing melodies from taut strung wires by hitting the keys was the most thrilling and pleasurable application of Newton's third law I had experienced in my young life. It remains one of my favorites, even now. Having someone besides the cat who would sit purring on my lap while I played listen was much less important. I didn't want the music to perform, I wanted it to carry me to a quieter, more sensible part of my mind.

For every bit of artistry, music has its touches of logic. There are rules, constraints, laid out by the limits of the human body and the instrument itself. Despite the walls of tempo, meter, and key, music has almost limitless possibilities. The same four beats that give you rock 'n' roll can also give you a stately march. The waltz can sound elegant and classical or twangy and country, depending on how you decide to play it.

That old piano is woefully out of tune.  It's flat. Sadly flat, like the smell of cigarettes and long-spilled beer that still hangs in the air of the bar where the piano was purchased. The cost of having someone come and try to tune it is prohibitive, to say the least, especially with regard to how often the poor thing gets played these days.

I've moved hundreds of miles and several hours away from that piano.  It waits in the back room for me to get there and glide my fingers over the keys.  Whenever I go home, I plink at them tentatively, to reassure myself that a key pressed still plays a note. It does, and I am relieved.

Created: Mar 24, 2014

Tags: hitrecord challenge, prose, non-fiction, music, piano

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