Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Piano of My Dreams

I started playing the piano when I was 8 or somewhere close to that.  We had a little electronic organ in the house that I figured out how to play and because of that my parents thought there was some kind of musical genius housed in me so they scrambled around and found a used upright piano for $600 and then a teacher from...I have no idea where.  Looking back on both of those things, they were the most amazing finds EVER considering that my parents had very little formal musical training and even fewer music connections.  That little piano moved with us to Houston a few years later, and then to Austin with me when I left my dorm but absolutely had to have a piano in my apartment, and then to Atlanta, Seattle, and back to Atlanta after I got married.  The best $600 uninformed investment my parents ever made! 

My piano teacher's name was Charlotte Atkinson and she had the most beautiful shiny black grand piano I had ever seen.  She also had about 120 cats.  While I waited for my lessons to start each week, her sitting room would gradually become filled with cats as they revealed themselves from behind curtains and underneath couches and eventually ended up somewhere near or on top of me within 5 minutes.  Something about me has always been a cat magnet, but I was too painfully shy at that age to tell them to go away or to tell Mrs. Atkinson that I was allergic to them.   

Oh, how I admired that brilliant, eccentric woman.  She was extremely stern about the piano.  She almost never played anything for me because she wanted me to learn to count and not play just by copying what I heard.  But every now and then, when I had mastered some piece of music as much as I was capable, she would sit down next to me on the bench and play it the way it was supposed to be played.  I never felt like she was being showy, just trying to inspire me to greatness.  She gave very few compliments and pushed me HARD to play things before I was ready and to learn THEORY above all else!  I was extremely intimidated by her, and I'm pretty sure I never spoke a word to her or looked at her in the entire 6 years I took lessons from her.  Between my constant sniffing and frustrating lack of response to every question, she must have thought I was such a odd little girl.  She entered all of her students in state and national piano and sight reading competitions and held group lessons and recitals in grand concert halls so we would have the experience of playing on a stage.  I wanted so much to do everything she thought I could do, so I worked hard every week and practiced and practiced and practiced every single day.  My goal was always to get one of those rare compliments, or better yet...a smiley face drawn on my lesson book with her red pen!  Those were the ultimate measure of accomplishment with that woman.  I only got a handful of each in 6 years, but they were well worth all the work.    

I continued taking piano lessons after we left California and even minored in music in college, but there really has never been anyone as inspiring as Mrs. Atkinson.  I've only ever played casually since I left her and never at the level she would have preferred, but she definitely unleashed in me a desire to always have a piano within reach.  Unfortunately that doesn't always ensure its use.  Something about knowing there is one available and that some level of ability still exists in these fingers has always been comforting, though.  

Last summer, when we realized a relocation was happening, Craig and I decided our very old, hand-me-down piano would not be making the trip to Birmingham with us.  We had given that beautiful upright from my childhood to a friend before moving from Atlanta to Utah, and after a miserable year or so of living without one in my in-laws' basement, my sister-in-law let us "permanently borrow" hers when she upgraded to a shiny, black baby grand.  It was a great temporary piano for those years in Utah and Allen, but it was too old and tired to make another move, so it moved to a neighbor's house a few months before we left Allen.

I hadn't really thought that a piano would be at the top of the priority list when we got here because I knew this one wouldn't be a hand-me-down.  When Craig's grandmother passed away in 2010, all the grandchildren received a small inheritance.  Craig and I had tagged that money six years ago for the piano of my dreams, but never got around to purchasing it for our house in Allen.  Somehow it managed to make the priority list when we moved here, though, for which I am immensely grateful.  

I happened to be looking for something else on Craigslist last week and saw an ad that said a couple near us was selling their piano studio and that all their inventory needed to be moved out by the end of the month.  We called and made an appointment for Saturday afternoon and this was one of three baby grands they had left.  We had a definite price range, limited space, and I knew I did not want a shiny black grand piano. (Those are too fussy and formal for my personality, I think.)  So we went without high hopes or expectations, just to look.  

We left there with a bill of sale and a delivery date for this beautiful thing...  

The man we talked to on Saturday is also a pastor at a local church and he was so nice.  He asked us, like nearly everyone else here, if we had already found a church home yet.  We assured him that that was the first thing we had found when we moved here.  And then I fumbled through about four or five hymns out of my giant green Hymnbook while he asked  about our lives and told us a little more about his, and then we secured a time and date for delivery for the piano.  

And then I spent the whole weekend wondering if we had been too impulsive? wondering if we should have shopped around more? wondering if Craigslist is a reputable place to find a baby grand piano?  wondering if it was really as mustard-y yellowish as my head was remembering it?  wondering if it would fit in the only space we had planned for it?  wondering how they would get it through the door?  wondering what the heck I was going to do if I didn't actually love it when it got here?  (you know...the usual rehearsing tragedy...)

Three days later, when it arrived, that same man and a much larger one, brought it into my house.  They were so careful and laid rugs down everywhere to make sure not to leave a single scratch on the floor.  The legs and pedals had been taken off for the ride in the giant truck and each piece was wrapped in black padding.  It took about 30 minutes for them to get the piano off the truck and in the door, and then situate all the pieces back together.  And then finally, finally when they took the black padding off of everything and stepped away from it, I loved it even more than I had on Saturday.  

Holy cow!  It looks like it was made for this house, doesn't it?  

I haven't really stopped playing it since it got here, which means all unpacking and organizing have come to a screeching halt for a time.  I'm sure I'll get back to that again later.  But for now, I'm thoroughly enjoying the piano of my dreams and trying to rediscover the talent that I'm pretty sure I used to have.  Mrs. Atkinson would be so happy.


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