Another trivial entry because it’s hard to focus on important ones…and another “if there’s ever a memoir” entry.
A while back (more than a decade, less than a quarter-century) my wife and I were both getting radios installed in our cars and walked around while it was being done. “Around,” in this case, taking us past a music store. Where we went in and my wife started looking at pianos.
After trying out pretty much everything in the store, she settled on–and fell in love with–a Schimmel vertical grand. You may never have heard of Schimmel, but they’re one of the great German piano companies, with (I believe) the same action as Boesendorfer. This group of piano stores got two shipments a year of Schimmels: five grand pianos and one vertical grand in each shipment. (This was a long time ago; things may have changed.)
A vertical grand is not the same as an upright. A vertical grand is a grand piano with the soundboard tilted 90 degrees, so it stands upright–but the weight, construction, and sound are those of a grand. In the case of the Schimmel, that’s a crystalline, bell-like purity; it’s not hard to fall in love with it.
I’m not sure whether it was the same day, but I do know that we wound up buying the piano, which we really couldn’t afford at the time: Certainly the last consumer loan we ever took out. (The piano cost more than a small car, although certainly nowhere near as much as a Boesendorfer! And this was a long time ago…although I believe the “car” comparison is still valid.)
My wife’s been playing on and off ever since. She takes a while to read music, but plays with feeling and soul. It’s purely a hobby, of course, but worth every cent we spent on the piano (and since then on tuning).
That’s not the story. This is.
A few years back, my wife bugged me to start playing. She knew that I read music (on good days, I can sight-read for singing): After all, I grew up in a Methodist household where we were all in various church choirs from an early age, and my mother had a teaching credential in music. She knew that I knew how to play the piano–my mother convinced me to play all the way through each song in the Methodist hymnal (fine four-part arrangements!) one summer, giving me some royal reward like $10 for completing the 500+ songs. And when I was in the Berkeley Community Chorus (again, a LONG time ago–at least 30 years), I rented a piano so I could hold extra practice sessions with the other baritones/basses, since we really needed the extra practice.
So I tried. And stopped.
The reason? Right up there in the title of this post. I realized something, listening to my wife play (and watching her) and listening to myself at the keyboard.
To wit: I don’t play piano. I can type the sheet music with reasonable agility: I “get the notes right.” But that’s not playing–it’s not making music.
I’d like to think I’m an acceptably good hack-level writer: I’m not just typing words.
But at the piano, I’m just typing notes. And that’s a waste of my time and no joy for the listener.