Like so many self-employed people, our piano tuner is only now starting to pick up on his work again. But it was only when he said, ‘You must have been able to play it a lot over lockdown’ that I realised that playing the piano, just like blogging and writing and learning to play another instrument, was another of those ‘to do’s which mysteriously were ‘to not do’. Not that the lack of practice has impacted adversely on my playing, as it’s nothing to shout about. I also realised that the sheet music on the piano was a book of Christmas carols – from Christmas 2019, that an unused room is a dust magnet and floorboards painted their original Victorian matte black provide a superb colour contrast, that glass-fronted cabinets somehow allow dust to infiltrate like a sand-storm in a desert, and that the furniture was decorated in webs of which Miss Haversham could have been proud. The piano deserves more love than it’s had over the last year – and as with everything in our lives, there is a story around it.

When I met Rory, he told me he had a lovely upright piano. When I eventually sat down to play something, its honky-tonk sound would have been better suited to Nashville. Out with the piano to a village hall when the tuner said he couldn’t get it anywhere near concert pitch. (I was accompanying my step-daughter on her flute, and constantly transposing the music was doing my head in!) We never gave a thought to replacing the piano for a good year or so as the young flautist abandoned her studies, until the tuner rang up out of the blue and said he’d found the perfect piano for us. A vintage Steinway boudoir grand, no less. ‘We can’t afford that, nor do we need it!’ But he told us it needed rescuing – it had been stuck out in a barn and had been up for sale for several years, but for some reason the owner had refused to sell it to any potential buyers.

Intrigued, I arranged to take a look, armed with the cash amount which he’d told me he thought it was worth, just in case. A lady well into her 80s invited me in to chat about the piano. She had studied at the Paris Conservatoire and it had been a present from her parents, and had stayed in her possession for over 60 years. Now that she was too arthritic to play it, her precious instrument was consigned to the barn. Her collie wouldn’t leave my side so he got lots of attention, and I chatted with her husband over a sherry before he linked arms with me to walk over to the barn. The bodywork of the piano was in a dreadful state, but there was still an elegance about it. So what if it was bigger than the baby grand I had pictured? Some furniture could be moved to accommodate it. Somehow. Though I didn’t hold my breath, as she’d had people to see it previously, then declined to sell it.

Back into the house and she suddenly announced she wanted to sell it to me! I duly took the cash out of my pocket and offered her what I’d been advised, which she refused and said she would sell it to me for the price she had in her head. Fair enough, I thought – but she came up with a price £200 lower! ‘Please take what I brought.’ ‘No – you buy it for this price or not at all!’

So the deal was done, and I couldn’t resist asking her why she’d sold it to me and not others, when I was possibly the worst pianist who had ever sat at its keyboard. ‘Because as you can see, my husband has dementia, and you are the first person to have bothered to talk to him. And the dog usually growls at visitors but he’s obviously taken to you. That’s why you can have my piano.’

And so I became the owner of a piano ‘construction Oct 3 1899’ by Steinway, suppliers to His Majesty the Emperor of Russia and the King of Italy amongst others, so the beautifully ornate images below the strings inform me.

Once it had been moved professionally, I took a photo of our dog, Hugo, and cat, Jim, lying beside it and made a card. I visited her to say thank you and to let her know we planned to have the bodywork French polished. Gifts for her were some music-related goodies plus a bottle of sherry for her husband. And a huge bag of treats for the dog. What I didn’t tell her was that when I had gone home after my last visit, I had discovered that my coat pocket had been full of dog biscuits!

 

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