We have a new piece of furniture at our house. It came to live with us a week ago. It makes noise. It's a piano.
For many moons I resisted my wife's insistence that we needed a piano. It seemed a little like "needing" a video game system. I could understand all the intrinsic value of such an acquisition, but I never understood it as a basic need. I suppose if things got very desperate we could prop it on its side and live in the shadow of the soundboard, but it's not much of a shelter and we're not going to eat it or wear it, so why do we need it?
Now that it's here, I understand. My son has been taking piano lessons for the past couple of years and he's been practicing on a Yamaha keyboard. You know the kind, with all the spiffy noises and rhythms. On any given day when he had finished practicing, he would spend a few minutes noodling about with the drum sounds and the other effects. It was a value-added experience for him, but not always for those of us stuck listening to it.
Now he practices on a real piano: eighty-eight keys, no waiting. It's an upright that began its life as a player piano. I grew up with a player piano in our basement, and I was also part of the crew of burly men, though certainly not the burliest, who carried that beast out of my mother's house oh so many years ago. Part of my fear of owning a piano is the certainty of it eventually having to move to another place, and I know just how much gravity has to be overcome in order for this to happen. I can remember when I was in high school I figured out how I could crouch under my mother's baby grand, the upstairs piano, and move it in short slides by arching my back underneath it. A very useful trick, but not one that I would recommend for those who are fans of walking upright.
And so there it sits, behind me on the right, mocking me and my nearly ten years of lessons. "Come on and play me," it taunts, "I'll bet you can't." Well, the truth is, I still can. Not very well, but I can still pound out "Little Drummer Boy" and a few bits of a Beethoven Sonatina that I memorized in my teens. I found some free Scott Joplin sheet music to download on Al Gore's Internet, and I printed out "The Entertainer" just to see how long it would take me to give up in frustration. If this were "Piano Hero", I would be stuck on the first level, clanging away in fits and starts.
In the meantime, my son is preparing for his first recital this Saturday. In previous years he has shied away from that kind of attention, preferring instead to keep his music to himself, but now he feels the time is right. He's been practicing all week long, and I think he'll be ready. I expect he'll be available for a few more impromptu performances right here in the parlor, now that we've got our own analog music machine.