“It must have been bought with so much love, to have traveled so far and still be in such pristine condition,” my mom said when I told her it hardly needs tuning even after the journey across the angry Indian Ocean. I picture it inside the shipping container, suspended from a crane and swaying in the wind, as it’s being uploaded in Durban harbour and downloaded in Melbourne. Bearing the pain with dignity. Emigrating to a town with a strange name. Becoming a foreigner in two places at once.
I remember the afternoon I became the owner of this amazing instrument vividly. Dad unexpectedly announced that he’s buying me a piano. So we went down to Musicland in Parow’s Voortrekker Road. I was eight years old at the time and had never been in a music shop. There were two pianos on the floor and dad said I should play on both and choose one. No “picking one” but a very adult “choosing one”. What did I know? All I knew was a tiny kiddies piano.
Our neighbour, Tannie Santie, was the one who heard me play “Die Stem” with one finger on the tiny keys and convinced my parents that they should give me the opportunity to learn music. Quite an expensive exercise, but one my folks nevertheless undertook and I’m quite sure had to squeeze to get the money together. Maybe my dad paid in installments, maybe we took it for a trial period. Who knows? Mom won’t tell. Says she really can’t remember, but does recall how happy I was and how I took to the 88 keys immediately and spent hours and hours tinkering away, while uncomplicated melodies took shape under my little girl fingers. Always making sure that the red flannel key cover is in place and the lid securely closed.
My piano is a bit like an old-fashioned turntable would be to a nonconformist LP-lover. Music arrives in so many new and instant ways but my durable, trustworthy piano could never be replaced, not even by any trendy weighted-key electric piano. Although people might disagree, and yes, it is convenient to cart around, there’s simply no comparison. Right down to the stain on its top, left there when a vase filled with water fell over unnoticed. It has the smell of love and cameraderie, and I have to admit a whiff of hate. I do recall banging the keys like a looney when a daunting piece was simply too hard to master.
The legato pedal, the most used and therefor shiniest of the three pedals, is still the perfect extension of my right foot, even after half a century.
Oh, if only it was possible to count the hours of excitement spent on that piano stool. Little black golf clubs on paper becoming a familiar language. Sonatas, Preludes, Fugues, Nocturnes, Rhapsodies. Scales, arpeggios and Hanon’s finger exercises – all part of the DNA.
My piano is my shrink. My Apollo is not only the god of music but also of healing, light and poetry. Who needs a consulting couch when you have ivories to talk to, Middle C to ground you, pianissimos to guide you to mindfulness. Our intimate sisterhood has seen new melodies being born, complex chord progressions being explored, and other instruments joining us for joyful ensemble playing. I thank my guardian angel, for no wood boring insect has made its way into the belly of my beautiful friend.
Please will you give my grande dame a loving home when the time comes for me to leave this earth? She might have to brave the ocean once again and sail back to South Africa, to live with one of my offspring. Won’t you see to it that she’s cosily tucked up next to an interior wall in the family room? Away from heating, cooling, moisture and direct sunlight, exactly as the kind man in Musicland instructed.