My tiny Berkeley apartment had been shrinking by increments with its herd of tight-squeezed grand pianos and digital keyboards. Count in a Baldwin grand acquired in April, 2015; a medium size Steinway grand (5’7″) bequeathed by my father after Oberlin graduation, and two side-by-side digital keyboards–YDP 105, and Yamaha Arius 141. The electronics were fun to play in the wee hours of the morning, with a snug pair of earphones to ensure privacy.
In truth, I had no real need to seal off my practicing from an appreciative audience of neighbors. Many admitted to eavesdropping–pressing their ears against my door, to savor a “free” concert of diverse timbres.
Why, then would I want to add a 6’2″ grand to my overflowing, “colorful” instrument collection?
I had no intention of allowing a tenuous keyboard situation to spiral out of control, until one Saturday, a neighbor’s baritone voice boomed through my door, announcing with urgency that “a Steinway A grand piano” was the centerpiece of a nearby Estate sale.
Instantly, I recognized the Letter “A,” like a dog sniffing out and pursuing a tantalizing beef bone– the impetus of which triggered a Pavlovian response.
I sprang out the door, running like a fiend to the McGee Street framed house only a block away, in hot pursuit of a prized instrument that I’d fantasized about since adolescence.
The ebony grand with lid open, was a 1911 model, making a stately appearance, and begging to be sampled. In a heartbeat, I was seated at the piano bench, running my fingers over its immaculate set of original ivories that afforded a fluid passage from phrase to phrase.
The piano sang like a nightingale and was smooth as silk to the touch. It sparked an impulse to possess it that barred a shred of doubt and common sense.
It was a mad love frenzy that sent me scrambling for my check book.
But first I’d dispatch a technician for a piano inspection.
His thorough assessment came within hours, and was so remarkably positive, that I sensed the man’s imminent, if not fantasized desire to rob the cradle of my future piano-playing pleasure.
I responded with a hasty offer aimed to thwart a bid by side-by-side salivating contenders. A few had huddled around me as I sampled the ‘A,’ with servings of Romantic era repertoire– the last offering was the first tableau from Schumann’s Scenes of Childhood. (Kinderszenen, “Of Foreign Lands and People.” )
As I inhabited my ethereal playing universe, a Chinese couple had edged close to the keyboard, breaking a spellbound immersion with a barrage of questions about the ‘A.’ They wanted to know if they should purchase it.
With a tiny, transparent sales slip chugging slowly out of a machine, I quickly sealed my ownership of ‘A’ and promptly contacted the piano movers .
While the logistics of containing THREE grands in a pod-size space were beyond my comprehension, I chose to let my fever pitch excitement abate before making a final decision about the fate of my PIANOS.
Somberly, I concluded that Steinway ‘M’ had to go with its modest, though resonant voice that matched its “medium” size and proportion.
My ads for an adoptive family spread far and wide in neighborhood Online listings. ‘M’ would either be placed in a temporary home with a suitable environment, or be sent to climate-controlled storage in a bumpy ride to Oakland. The latter seemed like a death sentence.
Israel Stein, my retired technician had e-mailed me a set of valuable recommendations that supported the well-being of my ‘M.’ These were borrowed and inserted in my posts.
“1. Keep it out of direct sunlight – always. (“only an hour or so per day” is just as damaging).
“2. Keep it away from open windows and doors (especially in the winter)
“3. Keep it away from heat sources (radiators, heat vents, space heaters, etc.)
“4. Keep it away from steam, vapor, and other excess moisture (in today’s “open” floor plans, pianos often get subjected to kitchen steam and vapor).
“Unfortunately,” he emphasized, “people too often placed pianos in accordance with their home decor needs, not considering what was good for the piano.”
My ardent pursuit of a caretaker took many twists and turns.
One eager prospect, was a song writer with admirable credentials. She and her composer husband who lived about 2 miles from Steinway ‘M,’ almost became its temporary parents, but for their open kitchen in close proximity to the grand. The gas heat, and vapor would swell the soundboard, ushering in a compensatory contraction. Their bedroom was at first a possibility for containment, but ‘M’ could not fit into the small space.
Other wooing adoptive applicants were ruled out by radiators, and very young children. Still, I was clinging to the hope that perhaps my neighbors down the walkway would agree to take my ‘M’ in exchange for piano lessons bestowed upon their chirpy 8-year old daughter who sang past my door each day. It was her dad who had first alerted me to Steinway ‘A.’
Through this whole, foster care-seeking process, I felt more than a shred of guilt for abandoning ‘M’ though I knew that it was time for ‘A’ to claim the rightful space that had been taken up by ‘M’ these many years.
To my great relief, my neighbors came through in the wee hours of the morning with a text that they would take ‘M’! And that’s how the piano shuffle began.
(‘A’ now sits snugly beside ‘B’ (Baldwin) in my music room, as ‘M’ is resting comfortably in her neighboring abode)
Finally, piano lessons will soon start where ‘M’ resides, and I’ll keep my ties to a piano that will not be forgotten.