With one simple addition, our home has been injected with the potential for culture and tradition like it didn’t have before.
After eight months of searching, Colls and I have a piano in our house. Specifically, on our main floor. There is also a large upright piano in the basement, but there are various keys that don’t sound and it will take a fair amount of work to get that thing back up to playing condition. Repurposing it will become a huge new project for the weekends.
So actually, we’ve now got two pianos in our house. That’s more than anyone actually needs, but both were free so I’m not complaining. I found the new one on Craigslist, the seller just looking for anybody to take it off their hands during their downsizing move. We gave it a once-over, and other than being in severe need of a tuning and a missing screw in the music stand, it looked good to go.
It’s on the main floor in the living room. The floating couch faces away from the piano, so even though it’s the second largest piece in the room (behind the entertainment center), it doesn’t draw the eye due to the segmentation of the room.
And I like that. One of the reasons I enjoy playing the piano is because for me, it is more of an individualistic instrument to play than guitar. There is less performer-listener interaction that happens, and I’ve found that my high from playing music doesn’t come from that interaction. If I was a huge rock star, it wouldn’t be the effect of my music on the audience that would keep me touring. It’d be the feeling of making awesome music that I enjoyed night after night.
That’s probably why I’m not a diehard live music fan. I don’t go to have some transcendent experience seeing the artist performing the music in front of me, I go because the artist is good and will make good music. The times I’ve actually gotten some euphoric feeling from playing music live in front of other people has always been connected to specific songs, or instances where I can remember playing something and thinking, “That sounded awesome. We just created an awesome sound.”
When you play guitar in front of people, most likely, they will be staring you directly in the face. Behind that decently small piece of wood, I can’t mentally retreat to focus strictly on playing music. With the piano, the closest a spectator can get to you is on your side (unless you’re playing on a grand piano, which is not what I’m ever going to be playing on). I don’t have to focus on who is listening, I can let my mind go to a more meditative space than I can with guitar.
The piano is an instrument that is more easily nuanced than the guitar. This is one of the reasons every fall, on campuses across the nation, there is an army of frat guys who learn how to play “Better Together” by Jack Johnson (or whatever the 2014 version of that song would be. My apologies for the outdated cultural references, I’m nearing 30 and don’t have the time). With the guitar, you can put a near-zero amount of effort in, and your yield is the temporary heart of any white girl who happens to be in earshot.
With the piano, the activation energy is much higher. You’ve got to either have a fantastic ear or be able to read sheet music to figure out how to play anything. Back to the nuance point though; with the guitar, the most notes you can play simultaneously is six. If you’re good, you can create sounds that sound fuller than six notes, but it’s not nearly as easy. With the piano, right off the bat, you’ve got ten fingers, so at a minimum you can pound out ten notes. Then on top of that, you’ve got the damper pedal, which extends the notes-played potential a great deal.
So with the right sheet music and a little bit of time, I can elicit these chords that just break my heart. For as long as I’ve listened to the Vince Guaraldi Trio provide the soundtrack to my Christmas seasons, now I can recreate a shadow of those sounds, and it is remarkably satisfying.
And I hope this does create a unique feeling in our household, for our kid(s). Colleen and I both grew up households with a piano. I remember siblings practicing on it for most of my kid years, and Dad playing ragtime, which is probably why I love The Sting so much. Colleen’s got home videos from her dad playing the piano and having the girls sing together at various ages.
Now that our home has a baby in it, I’ve been thinking a lot about trying to create a cultural home of memories for our kids. A place that has a distinct feeling for our family, different from anywhere else. I know I don’t really have to try and that will just happen naturally, but I’m trying to find this balance of creating a home culture that my wife and I find happiness in but also one that our kids treasure as they grow older, without totally shoving it down their throats. I’m decently worried about the day my kid starts to listen to some awful kid music du jour that I can’t stand.
But I’m sure these sorts of battles will come in time and hopefully work themselves out. For now, we have a piano that should last us for at least as long as we’re in this house, and I’m relearning how to play ragtime, learning anew how to play pop music, and shooting for speed on jazz scales. While she might eventually love 1-D or whatever artificially-produced effluvium is passing for pop music when she’s older, she will at least have an understanding of quality music, in the form of Gershwin, Joplin, Brubeck, Guaraldi, Folds, John and Joel.