I sold Mother’s grand piano last week.
She bought the piano in 1947 with an inheritance from her father. What an extravagance for a young family with three small children and a too-small house! It’s too late to recount the whys and hows of her purchase. She passed in 2012 — 11 days short of her 100th birthday.
She began piano as a young child, practicing at the neighbor’s because her family didn’t own a piano. Later she entered Willamette University as a music major, but quickly learned her only career options were performing on the concert stage or teaching piano — neither of which interested her — so she transferred to Oregon State to major in home economics.
Her love of piano music must have been deep — deep enough for her to purchase a mahogany Knabe 5′ 8″ grand piano. Like their other furnishings, the piano wasn’t new, but someone had loved it well since its creation in 1919.
I began taking piano when I was eight and practiced on that grand piano for ten years. I continued lessons through college and beyond, though I, too, wasn’t a music major.
Like Mother, I bought my own piano, an old Krakauer upright, when I had a young son. Though Mother and I never talked about it, I suspect piano music gave voice to soul and spirit for both of us.
I always knew Mother’s beloved piano would be mine one day — and that’s exactly what happened when she moved to assisted living a few years ago. The very presence of her piano in my living room called for intentional playing and a return to regular practice. My fingers knew those ivory keys. My hands knew her patina when I dusted her, just like I did as a child. An antique music cabinet filled with Mother’s music accompanied the piano to my house.
I’ve been honored to have her piano. And for the last few years I’ve played it several hours nearly every day as I work to improve my skills. Now that I’m retired, I have time for lessons and practice — and I have more passion than I’ve ever had for playing piano.
But the piano needed major work to be it’s best — and even with extensive repairs it would still be a nearly one-hundred-year-old piano. For the same money I could have a new piano with better sound, improved key action, and an uncracked sound board.
My new Knabe grand piano arrived last Friday. Though I was looking at other brands, the stars in the universe aligned in unimaginable ways for this exact piano to be mine. The outer design is nearly identical to Mother’s piano, but the keys are more responsive to the nuances of touch. The bass notes are rich and alive. And my fingers are at home on new keys.
But a question I’ve pondered for weeks still remains: how could I sell Mother’s piano? Some friends responded as if the piano were a sacred artifact to be treasured forever, that somehow I had betrayed her.
I’ve come to a different conclusion.
My inheritance from Mother is my love of piano music — not the piano itself. Because she loved playing piano, she wanted her only daughter to share that love. She made sure I took lessons and practiced. Together we heard exquisite pianists touring with the Community Concerts. We positioned ourselves in the auditorium so we could watch their hands on the keyboard. We went backstage to get autographs — autographs of pianists who became well-known later in their careers. She, not her piano, is the reason I still play the piano, that I believe I can improve, that I attend piano performances often, and that my passion continues to grow.
Her piano is not ready for piano heaven yet — she has a few years left. Another family will invite her into their living room and cherish her presence — a family whose children will sit at her keyboard, learn their scales, and practice their pieces before their feet can even reach the pedals.
The inheritance began long ago when Mother introduced me to piano, and continues when I sit to practice and as I learn new techniques from Dr. B. The arrival of Mother’s piano in a new home will carry her legacy as well.
Such an inheritance can grow us for a lifetime and beyond.
Until next Tuesday…