A Last Duet

This post is not about dogs. Well, only tangentially. It's mostly a post about a piano.

In particular, this 1880's vintage upright piano:

It has been a beloved friend since I was five years old. That's when my parents bought it, used, so that my brother Rick could practice his piano lessons. That year, Rick taught me how to play Chopsticks, and I've never looked back.

Originally, the piano's wood frame was stained dark brown. It has some lovely, delicate carvings in the front panels. It was placed in our basement rec room where I could make all sorts of noise without bothering anyone. I quickly signed up for lessons with Rick's teacher, a wonderful young woman who believed in making learning fun rather than rote. I quickly advanced.

Sadly, that teacher moved after about a year, and the next one, shocked that my music reading skills were lacking (compared to my ability to play by ear), started me from the beginning with dreaded scales and finger exercises. Needless to say, I quickly became bored and stopped taking lessons. But I never stopped playing.

In the 1960s when my family moved from one house to another, my mother painted the piano antique white to make it appear less monstrous in our new family room. Our new house's design included a space made specifically for the dimensions of this piano. It was during this time that I watched the movie Born Free and heard the theme song on the radio. I told my mother I wanted to play it, so we went sheet music shopping. Using my ear, knowing how the song should sound, I was able to learn to "read" the sheet music, eventually teaching myself how to read and play. A whole world opened up to me. I quickly moved on to other popular music, including Elton John, The Bee Gees, Neil Diamond, John Denver...I was a sponge for popular music that I could first hear on the radio, then buy so that I could learn how to read and play it. Better yet if I could sing along. I also started making up my own songs. 

That piano was my best friend. Well, second only to my dog Trinket and my cat Blue. When happy, sad, bored...I turned to my piano to fill my time, fill my soul. My brother Tim would complain because the rule was if I was playing, the TV couldn't be on.

I left home at eighteen, getting married. I moved the piano with me. I separated from my husband at twenty; my piano moved with me. For my college and law school years, the piano stayed at my father's house, but I would find pianos on campus to play whenever I could. My skills improved when in college I was introduced by a friend majoring in music to classical music, Beethoven and Debussy in particular. When the stresses of essays and finals was heavy, I'd turn to piano playing to calm me. When my love life sucked, I turned to a piano for comfort.

Once out of school, I reclaimed my own piano and began hauling it with me every time I moved. My poor brothers learned to cringe when hearing a move was pending, knowing I'd try to convince them to help me load or unload that ungainly and heavy piano. Often my father would twist their arms to help their little sister. Over the years, the piano acquired some scars from those moves; it is now missing one wheel, and has some divots on it's lower front legs. But it always played for me, rarely requiring tuning despite suffering the indignities of being hauled for miles in U-Haul trucks. In the 1990s, the sustain pedal - which I used constantly - finally gave out. A friend managed to fix it for me. Ten years ago, I moved the piano all the way to Idaho with me, first into a rental house, then my new house; in 2008, I moved it back to Washington, once again first into a rental, then into my new house. I've lost count of all the moves that piano has made with me.

Now, I'm moving back to Idaho. Again.

And I'm saying goodbye to my oldest, dearest friend. The piano will not be going with me. I play it frequently these days, knowing that very soon, I'll never play it again. My piano has been my closest and most constant friend for 52 years.

An era is coming to an end. Feeling a need to return to Idaho unburdened with my past, with fresh ideas for how I want my life to be and where it should go, I decided - reluctantly - to say a sad but fond farewell to my piano.

I embrace change. I always have. In this instance, being open to change meant considering leaving my old, bruised and ungainly (but still beautiful to me) piano behind and acquiring an electronic piano. They're small, portable, and - perhaps most important for me - offer the ability to record what's played. You see, I've composed several songs of the years, but...I don't know how to write music, so the songs are only in my head. I've felt the need to somehow record them for years; I've already forgotten a couple of them. Now, with electronic pianos, I can. And will. 

I'll not say goodbye without angst and tears, though. A guy will come by two days from now to collect my piano. He's a piano tuner and restorer. I hope he'll fix and find a new home for my piano. Maybe the home of a child who will become as inspired and comforted by music as I was, and always have been. A child who will cherish each key and the sounds they produce. I hope so.

Oh. Dogs, you may wonder - how to they fit into this post? My piano and my dogs go together in my memories. The piano knew all of the dogs of my life: Rusty the Cocker spaniel; Tricket the Beagle mix; Trigger the hound mutt; Opus, my first Malamute, followed by Maia and Meadow; and now Finn. Most suffered through my endless practicing, playing, tinkering and experimenting with great patience. When I lost Opus when she was fourteen, I spent hours playing David Lanz songs to assuage my grief. When I lost both Maia and Meadow so close together last summer, I was without my piano, and that made the loss even harder to bear. When I returned to the piano at the end of the summer, it consoled me as I played certain songs that in my mind are connected to those Maia and Meadow. And each time I sit down to play now, I think back on how Maia would invariable stand next to me as I played, staring at me to ask to go outside, ever the critic.

Goodbye, sweet piano. I love you, I'll miss you, I thank you. I won't forget you. Thank you for half a lifetime's worth of memories.