Saturday, October 24, 2009

Piano Debt

We moved two pianos (twice each), along with some slightly less heavy furniture today. I had 2.5 sons for two of the moves and 1.5 sons for the other two. Kyle is more than half an adult when moving things in general, but for heavy objects, children are a net loss until about age 11. They help, but also feel the need to wisecrack or show off at inopportune moments, and misunderstand directions even more than the usual misunderstanding that occurs among adults moving heavy objects. Kyle is 13, and one of those children who believes it is his bounden duty to entertain the troops on every occasion. A net gain, but not an unalloyed help.

(BTW, I once moved furniture with a person who does it for a living, and it was a great joy. He was able to describe precisely and briefly what needed to happen at every point. Now pivot, top end toward the door...)

We have been acquiring and switching pianos for decades. We have gotten little use out of them. My wife took lessons as a girl and will occasionally force her way through a piece. Ben took lessons for a few years in the 90's. It gets used for an annual Christmas party - when it is held at our house. It is good for banging out the notes to learn a melody, which happens about once or twice a year. Small children like to sit on the bench and hit notes for a few minutes at a time. Not much return for the effort, to my mind. I told my wife she has incurred great piano debt with me.

But a piano is a statement, a cultural statement, that is hard to let go of. We are the sort of people who should have a piano. Pianos suggest not only culture, but stability. Even the smaller ones are heavy, and apartment dwellers or frequent movers do not acquire pianos until they wish to indicate that they are staying put for some time.

As our society continues to become more mobile and more willing to discard household objects, heavy furniture in general will become less common. We have a lovely old desk of my father-in-law's, which we will be exchanging for a smaller and lighter one. Who would need such a thing these days, even for free? China cabinets and sets of family china will continue to be handed down for awhile, but families have fewer children these days, and an increasing percentage of those children would consider such items a burden. My grandmother found many occasions to use her good china - my mother somewhat fewer. Except for the three main holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, we have to make a specific effort to use it.

We did make that effort with the first two sons, so that they would at least not thoroughly embarrass themselves at a formal occasion. It was probably even more needed with the two Romanians, but we had lost the habit by then. For the fifth son, I fear this is thoroughly unfamiliar territory.

But at least he used the piano just after it was put in to replace the other one. He twice played the first few bars of the theme song from "The Office."

We pass down only fragments of culture and custom which are on their way out, and being separated from their wholes, lose context and meaning. Attitudes and practices which I can understand secondhand from knowing my grandparents, my grandchildren will have no intuition of. Rather like a drawer of old kitchen utensils or a workbench of old tools, where you have to puzzle over half the objects, wondering what they were used for.


Ben Wyman said...

My God, we changed pianos again? On the other hand, Nana's piano was always very nice.

And just be glad that Mom is not Lauren, who felt the need to have two pianos.

GraniteDad said...

Moving Lauren's pianos was the worst piano-moving experience of my life.

GraniteDad said...

Smashing Rick Kopituk's unwanted piano to get it out the door was the best.

akafred said...

AVI - sorry I couldn't help out on this end. This cold has sidelined me worst than any cold over the last few years. Maybe it's a Swine Cold??

Your piano caper reminded me that we pledged our piano to Erin when she got her first home. And now she has one. The wife remembers that we were going to deliver the piano as part of a "package deal." Funny, but I have no such recollection.

Donna B. said...

There are some great piano moving stories from my childhood, which resulted in my mother refusing to ever let my father move any piece of furniture again.

I think he planned it that way.

Erin said...

Why does this post remind me of something from a Thurber story?

And I'm still waiting for my piano! That one actually has a chance of being used, regardless of how it gets here.

Word verification: pullingu

Anonymous said...

When we moved to Nashville, I thought "OK, no more transoceanic moves for a while, it's time to get a piano to plink on."
And like many of my friends in the past, I thought if I just kept my eyes open I'd find one "free if you move it away". And I looked on Craigslist. And the newspaper. And the free ad papers. For half a year.
I came to the conclusion that there are no free pianos in the Nashville metropolitan area. If it is a useful or beautiful piano, then someone wants it. And if it is not, they know that already and it goes away by some other route.

I did see a free Samick baby-grand in Western Mass last summer. So it was imporant enough for someone to buy it new not too long ago, and so unimportant to their family now that they just want it to go away.

('didn't get it because the cottage would have needed about a Samick baby-grand's worh of improvements to the floor in order to keep it out of the crawlspace...)

karrde said...


I recently my family move a pair of pianos. (Long my still-at-home younger sister both studies and teaches piano music.)

Pianos are one of those things that some parents use to try to get their kinds interested in music. It is much easier to push them towards music in the "not-teen-music" category with piano than with guitar.

What pushes against this force is that a beginner on a guitar sounds much better than a beginner on a piano. For related reasons, most popular music is guitar-centered, or has a noticeable guitar element to it.

The concept of not having recorded music to listen is an old one, and one that died in the second quarter of the 20th Century. This has radically changed the way that young people relate to musical instruments, and to making music.

But the concept of owning a piano, in part as a sign of being both well-off and cultured, will take longer to die.

Donna B. said...

"What pushes against this force is that a beginner on a guitar sounds much better than a beginner on a piano." --karrde

You've obviously not been subjected to a beginner on a violin!