The Piano


The Piano

I’ve often believed and have written that our lives are made up of many little short stories, and it’s the total accumulation of those experiences that frame our life. Take for instance this past week’s event which I’ve titled, “The Piano”.

Many of you know that my wife, Karen, and I, together with immediate family, have been involved for the past four months settling her parents into assisted living. No doubt, it’s a life changing experience for mom and dad, but it’s also a new experience for those family members on the frontline, making sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible.

Inclusive in such a move is the downsizing from a lifetime’s accumulation of furniture, and all kinds of assorted memorabilia. Counted among the assortment of my in-law’s possessions, was one very old upright piano that had its own interesting history of how it was acquired, how it was altered, and how it would be disposed of.

The piano was originally a “player piano”, a unique design for its time that could self-play a tune upon insertion of a preprogrammed paper roller, but somewhere along the way, the player mechanism was removed, leaving this particular piano to have its music derived strictly from the ivory keyboard. It was a popular instrument that was not only found in respectable homes at the turn of the century, but it was a common furnishing for the saloons of the old west. 

Who took delivery first of the player piano from its New York factory, and how it settled in Gallup, New Mexico where our story begins is still a mystery. For it was here that this now second-hand instrument served harmoniously in a small church in the 1940s, presided over by Karen’s Japanese grandfather. It was a small church mission primarily for newly arrived immigrants from Japan that worked for the Santa Fe Railway. Meeting in a railroad car on loan from the company, the piano was played routinely for the singing of worship hymns.

Eventually that small gathering in Gallup closed its doors, and the piano was relocated to Karen’s side of the family where it took on a slightly different purpose. Instead of being played for many as it had for the congregation, the piano became instrumental in Karen's music teaching.

The family’s eventual move from Gallup to Albuquerque in the 1950s, also meant the relocation of the piano for those in-home music lessons. A side story that has become a classic, was the alteration that changed the piano’s wood, from a deep black finish, to a medium shade of brown. The routine I am told went like this, 30 minutes of piano practice, followed by 30 minutes of sanding the piano’s outer surface, and according to my wife, she was the majority stock holder of the sanding trade.

Once Karen left the house, the music that once came from the piano’s keyboard was all but silenced. For the next five decades, the piano gathered dust, and became a handy shelf for displaying family pictures. That was until early January 2018, when both mom and dad were moved to an assisted living facility.

The task to disburden their house of all of its contents - including that old upright piano - soon followed. One-by-one each of the immediate family turned down the free acquisition of the piano for reasons of it being, …too old, …too big, …too heavy, ...and we don’t play the piano. Yes, Karen and I even considered taking it in, but we concluded it was just too much of a space filler for our house. Maybe if Chloe played the piano, we would have reconsidered.

Friends were also called in to see if there were any takers, …free of course, no cost, but once again, the old upright piano couldn’t find a home. A co-worker of mine agreed to take the piano, but after a weekend of thinking on it, the answer came back, “we’ve changed our minds”. And so, …I thought, how to get rid of the piano, a possession that had been in the family for over 80 years. Would the next buyer of the house want it? Would a school want it? Would a church want it? Should we just roll it down the street and run?

That’s when it struck me, …why not put an internet ad on craigslist. Ask a minimal price to show it had value - other than free - especially since that didn’t appear to work with family and friends, and see if someone in Albuquerque would like the opportunity to own an old piano. I also believed that you needed to write the ad with a short catchy piece of text, and include plenty of photographs.

As with any short story, having a happy ending is certainly preferred, or at least that’s the intended goal, especially if you plan on recounting the story years from now. So, did we find a home for the old piano?

Well, I’m pleased to report, we indeed found a buyer for the old upright piano within 24 hours of posting. The person that took possession of the piano was not only a musician, but was connected with the movie industry, and when he saw the photographs on craigslist, exclaimed, “That piano will be a movie star!”. Okay, I exaggerated that last sentence. 

But you see, the buyer also leases out movie props for the Hollywood films made in New Mexico, especially American westerns, and no doubt this old former player piano may one day make its appearance in a scene for an old western saloon. So, is that how this piano first got its start, in some bar room played for the enjoyment of its patrons, and now it had come seemingly full circle? Like I said early on, I don’t know how that piano landed in Gallup, so maybe, just maybe, there’s a little truth in such a tale. 

Chloe inspects "The Piano".

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