I grew up in a house with a piano. This was not because my parents were musical; they were not. In my family music skipped a generation and descended directly from my grandmother to me (guitar) and my sister (piano). My sister’s early experiences with grandma’s baby grand led to a Yamaha upright appearing in our living room. Alas, I never took lessons, but I’ve always loved the full, rich, transcendent sound of the piano. When my sister left home and took the piano with her, I asked for one of my own and got an electric organ. It was not the same, not even close, and it did little more than gather dust.
As soon as I got an apartment big enough I started casting about for a piano that needed a home. I eventually became the proud babysitter of a nice old Young Chang belonging to a wandering friend. I have yet to make much headway in learning to play it—a couple of Bach minuets are as far as I’ve gotten—but that’s OK. As David Dubal in “Let’s tickle the ivories” says, its the journey that matters.
Almost everyone is musical. Music is an actual bodily need. Another saying goes “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well,” but I disagree. Like Chesterton, I feel that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing even badly. Playing the piano is not something to be graded. Adults should take it up the moment they feel the need to play music. As a matter of course, children should be given lessons without pressure. Playing the piano should be an act without material value. It must be a road of discovery, a trackless territory, and never a means of showing off. The piano won’t serve the ego’s craving for recognition.
According to that Dubal, the piano’s popularity was at its zenith when my grandmother was growing up, but collapsed along with the stock market a generation later. But what of all those old pianos? Some of them end up at Fournitures Generales Pour le Piano, a tiny Paris shop stuffed to the rafters with old piano parts that can no longer be had from the manufacturers. The only way to get them is to take them from other pianos, which owner Marc Manceaux likens to organ donation. One sacrificed piano can keep many others alive. His business is in decline, but Manceaux says that as long as he has some water, a candle, a hardcover book and an old piano, he will continue to live. The short film La Mer de Pianos, below, is a beautiful tribute to Manceaux and to all who love pianos.
Before I got to practice some scales I’ll leave you with Dubal’s call for a global piano revolution:
The piano is a shrine to the human spirit, an instrument so perfect that it has permeated the lives of the great composers. In its literature are compositions for every level of attainment. It is said that in China thirty million people study the piano. That’s quite a good start. Let’s go country by country. I actually believe that playing the piano may save the world. But forget about the world and save yourself.