Go ahead, buy a piano

At eight o’clock on a Saturday morning, six giants appeared in front of the building I live in, propped up the front door, and started lifting a thickly bandaged 1930 Steinway Model L grand piano up the tight hairpin bends up. on the fourth floor.

If these scales run outI thought – not a distant possibility –I’ll have blood on my hands. After about 90 minutes, as I peered from the entrance to my kitchen on the landing one floor below, one of the giants saw me: “Oh. You are the boy.

I’m the guy, the guy who saw fit to distill a 600-pound piano on the vinyl-tiled living room floor of his railroad apartment near a cement factory. When I sat down and played, even before the tuner had gotten to fix those pushed strings, I immediately knew it was the right choice: a sweet-sounding grand piano, sensitive keys, no screen, and absolutely indifferent to quality. your Wi-Fi, made my life a warmer, more beautiful and more weighted thing.

I grew up in Salt Lake City, a place where there are many pianos: the upright flint in my mom’s dining room, on which she taught my first six years of lessons; the five- or six-foot grandparents in the living rooms of some of our neighbors, whose children I babysat for money so I could tinker after they went to bed. These were the families I knew from our Mormon Church, where I went to school afternoons to practice when my mother taught at home. As a ward organist, she had the keys. Then there was the 6-foot 11-inch Steinway Model B in my piano teacher’s living room, where a beautiful fire purred all winter and she sat hopelessly charming, welded to her cup of coffee, a keyboard killer.

I enjoyed learning the piano. I loved the puzzle of a new piece, noting how the ideas of some composers (mostly Russian romantics – Scriabin, Rachmaninoff) seemed almost preprogrammed in my brain, so intuitive were both the sounds and the physical movements that created them– while others posed a disconcerting and unattractive block. Being a semi-serious student, I also had to play a little of Bach and Beethoven: earlier music, more thrifty, more naked than the romantics and, for this reason, less indulgent towards the weaknesses of the technique. Outside of a few episodes of true stage fright, I enjoyed performing and, during the second half of high school, I was giving discreet solo performances in an acting room full of smiling friends and family.

What I didn’t like was practicing: the real boredom of perfecting fingering, touch, voice and rhythm, the task of finding the music in the music. But in the unguarded solitude of the church, with a well-kept instrument in a large room where it sounded good, I found something more fun: improvisation, playing chords that came out of me like the testimony I would hear in that same room on Sunday.

After college in California, a place where, at the cost of many years of peace, I turned out to be gay and severed ties to Mormonism, I moved to Los Angeles to start adulthood. Suddenly, the abundance of pianos I had known up to that point was replaced by none. (The exception was the Bösendorfer in my first employer’s Brentwood living room.) Electronic keyboards came and went, but using them – lifeless, wobbly, voiceless or vibrating – was like cooking with earplugs in the nose.

And so he went without a piano for many years, through a cross-country move to Brooklyn. The rare encounter with a piano was both pleasant and painful, given the deterioration of my repertoire memory and my dexterity, until one evening I invented something for my friend Courtney on her upright Yamaha, and she said, in the way that where the right person at the right time can walk in and open the door to another wing of your life, “You really should have a piano”. She told me about the Doyle auction house on the Upper East Side, where an underestimated grand occasionally might show up next to the vases and rugs. I walked there in the cold of January and, shooting straight from the hip, made an offer – a few thousand dollars – for a 1920s honey-colored Steinway. (James Barron is magnificent New York Times series on making a Steinway describes “a fondness if not a reverence” among musicians for the instruments of this “golden age,” a phrase to which the company, which still produces and sells pianos, is irritated.)

I passed the offer, but it didn’t matter. I was fascinated by a vision of my life infused with the romance of my Steinway. I found a similar tool at a suburban dealer and chose what turned out to be the coldest day of 2016 for a trip on the Long Island Railroad. When I arrived, the shop windows were misted with blaring humidifiers to protect themselves from the expansion and contraction that promise every piano its eventual doom.

As I sat mingling with Brahms, trying to repatriate to a country whose language I could only vaguely remember, I dreamed of having a piano like this in a place where nothing could hold me back from it: no church keys, nothing. MIDI cords or cables to be pulled out of a cabinet. At any time of any day, under any conditions, I could just walk up to the keys and press one of them, and then another, and then sit back and be on, on and off.

Contemplating such a thing was wonderful. It was, at the same time, absurd. At the retailer’s price, I would have to take out a loan, even for this model which, not having recently undergone the major renovations a piano needs in its lifetime, cost a quarter of the new; besides, I really feared that the transport to my decrepit walk-up would end in disaster. What would happen if I had to move?

But the dream made it a better case, and I guess it never really was for me anyway: my piano is haunted, you know. His arrival, about a week after that Long Island test, coincided with an isolated but terrifying case of sleep paralysis and hallucinations. I had not bargained for how much and with what fervor this object would exercise its attraction, or with what immediacy.

The Bach corpus that I once rejected is now my favorite and I am making my way through his tapas; adult me ​​has a modicum of discipline and patience, it turns out, and has experienced many brain-reshaping Glenn Gould recordings. My last Zoom lesson with my piano teacher (the same, charming and caffeinated as always) was largely of the “no notes” type, an unprecedented interaction in our relationship. But most of all, I love to sit and play whatever happens, for my friends, for a man, for the phone camera with which I sometimes post my endless song on Instagram.

I sat at the piano playing karaoke songs for the party guests. I sat there singing the hymns of my childhood, a delicate retrieval of a confiscated story. I sat there as my ex-boyfriend locked himself at the opposite end of the apartment with a pair of noise-canceling headphones: “It’s so loud.” Sometimes it occurred to me that my piano would still work in the apocalypse, which sounded melodramatic. But then I sat there, alone, heartbroken in the early days of COVID, and from my bench I could see the Empire State Building spire pulsing red and white, up and down: emergency.

Soon after, I sat there when I wasn’t sure how to gain a foothold by writing a novel about the origins of my childhood faith. I played a few notes and sang along with the 38th chapter of Job, composing music to accompany the words – a creation legend – that have chased me from the moment I first read them: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the children of God cried out for joy. “

You could, I suppose, get a guitar. Or a harmonica. Both are portable, perfect for dabbling, and invite joyful creativity like any musical instrument. But some things in life have to be heavy, in debt and out of date; they are intended to require regular and highly specialized maintenance; they are meant to carry on the weight of the past, to push it on us, to keep us unreasonably awake. I think of all the years when I didn’t have a piano, when in a sense I thought it was impossible, another piece of the past that I had to leave behind. But the fact of a piano is that it is too big to disappear; it’s big enough to fight, big enough to find its way to you. “Oh,” said my piano in that outlying showroom all those years ago. “You are the boy.”

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