19 Jan lifting the damper pedal
There has been a battle raging in my living room—a deep-rooted standoff that began when I was a child of about nine. That is the age I was when my parents drove to a stranger’s house in a nearby community to purchase a second-hand piano to support my ongoing musical training.
The Irmbach was a smallish contemporary-looking upright piano manufactured, curiously, in Russia, so how it was imported to my small town on Vancouver Island is anyone’s guess. But with its arrival into my home, so began our lifetime relationship and I’m not going to lie to you, it has been tumultuous.
Some may characterize it as a love/hate relationship. But I believe both emotions improperly capture the bond between us. Of course, on the “hate” side there were plenty of frustrated hours in my childhood and teenage years spent railing against the physical burden of my musical career.
The preordained requirement of practicing in my weekly schedule, the forced performances for relatives, the trimmed fingernails defying my 1980s glamour fantasies, the sheer OBLIGATION I had to shoulder, as piano lessons were not inexpensive for my working-class family, especially when you factored in the long drives to and from my various teacher’s homes, the sheet music, the theory classes, the music camps and recital fees because you see, I had talent. My teachers said so, music festival adjudicators said so and, truthfully, my heart said so too.
I must confess there was also love on that piano bench. There were times when I could feel the music ring through me. I could feel it vibrate through my fingers and I knew the power of bending time along the crest of a note to create drama or suspense, heartbreak or humour. I experienced a sense of community through playing duets with a friend, accompanying church choirs, witnessing wedding marches and anniversary singing performances of The Rose. It felt particularly pleasurable when articulating the crisp precision of Bach, Handel, or Haydn; as I was always drawn to the clarity of the Baroque masters rather than the messy Romantics (so many notes; who has hands that big?). And the swell of recognition was sweetest when I would channel the music properly and perform something that I could tell landed on my audience with the soft acknowledgement of the profound that music can deliver.
But my musical talent did not survive my teenage years, as it was no competition for the freedom I sought and eventually fought for. Freedom to grow my nails out. Freedom to have hours back to talk on the phone with my friends. Freedom from the supremely uncool piano and all its perceived conservatism. Freedom to diminish my training down to teaching boys how to play the opening for Mötley Crüe’s Home Sweet Home, without ever offering to play it myself.
When I had a home of my own, the Irmach became a centrepiece in my own living room. There, it mostly sat unloved or at least unused, feeling fingers rest on the keys only during Christmas carol season, or the brief period when my own children took piano lessons, or when titillated by a rousing glissando as it was dusted every couple of weeks.
And yet here I am, essentially writing a eulogy for my piano. What sweet irony is this to recognize that I feel so conflicted to say goodbye to something that clearly doesn’t serve my current and future life? You see, I’m about to move house and despite my default resistance to change, my stubborn protestations and my pragmatic measuring and re-measuring, there just isn’t space in my new house for the piano. Of course, I blame my husband for this; always suspecting he has been harbouring resentment for the piano’s intrusion into his graph-paper-mapped version of life ever since he strained his back moving it into our first house 26 years ago. “You don’t even play it” he callously chirps every few months, before further salting the wound by suggesting I get a keyboard instead.
I know every inch of this piano: from the brass Irmbach plaque strangely applied overtop another obscured brand name (making me always imagine my piano held some Cold War secret life that required renaming in a witness-protection program) to the deeply sun-bleached wood veneer that reveals a deep walnut colour if you drop the keyboard cover or lift the sheet music holder out of their fixed positions. I spent years of my life in front of this piano prostrate to the higher power, trying to get Closer to Fine. Awaiting divination. Awaiting release from the purgatory of practicing. Awaiting my free will to ripen enough to release me from ongoing lessons. Awaiting my life to begin. Awaiting my mother to leave the room so I could surreptitiously read my book while simultaneously practicing scales.
It feels like I am giving away the family pet. Who could be so monstrous? How could anyone make such a terrible decision? Why do we not value music and musical training the same way as families seemed to during my youth? Did Edith Bunker’s screeching Those Were the Days for the All in the Family theme song ruin it for everyone? I mean who wants to gather around the piano for that? Better to put on your just-let-go playlist from Spotify and let the algorithm carry you away instead, right?
So here I sit playing my last tune (metaphorically speaking) before the movers take the piano away, and surprisingly, alongside my Royal Conservatory of Music classically trained despondency there lies a growing glint of something else. A restlessness for a new song. It appears to be time to lift that damper pedal that has been sustaining a lifetime of evermore discordant vibrations and let the legato free. It is time to clear the air to let in a different melody.
Time to quip Marie Kondo and say, “Thank you for being part of my life”, take a bow and leave the stage… with one final note rising up alongside the dust in a sunbeam.
*Artwork credit: Eulogy, Alison Farrer