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My Favorite Piano

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Okay, I admit it, when a client calls with a certain kind of piano, I get a little frustrated. It’s not so much the type of piano, it’s the state it’s in when they call: it hasn’t been tuned in over ten years but it’s an old family piano that they can’t bear to part with. Of course when I warn them about possibly needing a pitch raise, they say, “it’s not that bad, but you can tell it needs to be tuned.” Often these pianos truly are antiques, wonderful instruments, made in an era of quality craftsmanship. These owners recognize this, call the pianos precious family heirlooms, yet balk at spending anything extra to maintain their treasures.

Having said all this, I must admit that my favorite piano in the world is an old, run-down family heirloom. It is the 1880s upright Steinway that I learned to play on. Many years ago, my grandfather tuned and serviced the piano. He eventually gave it to my folks when his workshop became too full. My parents did keep it tuned – especially when they lived by my grandfather. Unfortunately when they did not live near him, the tuner who worked on it did nothing to maintain the action, which was in increasingly poor shape.

Like my clients, I love the piano, remembering it for what it once was. My husband, the technician, sees all its current flaws. My husband also can’t stand playing it – he says the touch is “off.” Of course, I love the touch, but then that’s what I am used to since that is what I played the most when learning. I think it’s a beautiful piece with lovely woodworking. My husband sees a hard-to-work-on upright. Oh dear. We will probably never agree about this piano.

I know that there is a continuous debate about attitudes surrounding these old pianos – particularly spinets and uprights. Some technicians want to junk many of them outright when one needs too many repairs. Others will kindly help the piano keep limping along as best they can. For this, the client is grateful. Every so often I need to be reminded that the client and the technician do not always agree. And working in the service industry we need to take care of each client – and his piano – as if it were our own. Perhaps I should keep a picture of my parent’s piano by my phone. No more frustration over someone’s favorite piano.

After having written this piece, my family decided to give us the old Steinway so my husband could rebuild it. He is excited about restoring it to its past glory. It has been shipped from Ohio to Arizona where it now sits in Mark’s workshop. Whenever I need that reminder now, I can just go out to the garage. 

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