Thursday, September 25, 2008

Our old piano.

We have an old piano in our apartment that’s almost a hundred years old. It’s a petite grand, slightly longer than a baby but shorter than a standard. The exterior has been abused quite a bit – a previous owner left a large water stain from a vase (flowers on a piano!?! Gasp!) and our dogs, when they were younger, would secretly climb onto it, leaving noticeable scratches around the edges and on top (dogs on a piano!?!?! Double gasp!) Despite that, the soundboard has held up fairly well and the old timer holds a satisfactory tuning. The mechanics are a little slower though so I usually end up playing the upright in the spare bedroom.

That being said, I thought I’d try something different. I sat at the old piano and closed my eyes and began playing the first thing that came to mind. I tried listening for all the sounds that were being created by the piano, the thumping of the mallets as they fell back down after hitting the strings, the pedal mechanics clicking, a certain frequency created by one of the notes was causing a slight rattling sound, a loose screw perhaps? I always loved the sound made by pressing down on the sustain pedal firmly, from silence, and hearing the echo of all the strings creating a cavernous feel. I lowered my head closer to the keys and listened to my fingers sticking and unsticking from the them. I could hear my finger tips brushing across as I search for the next hand position, the occasional click from a finger nail hitting a key. I could hear my bench squeak beneath me as I shift my body weight jumping from extreme treble to low bass. The lowest A sounds out of tune and growls. The highest C is also out of tune and sounds less like a note and more like something metallic being hit. There is little sustain without the pedal.

I then played a chord with my head down at the keys again, and heard a wah-wah effect, the chord ringing slightly louder and softer in a cycle. In some chords it wasn’t as noticeable. For some reason I could hear this most prevalent in chords that contained C#, most noticeably in F# major.

I then tried something I had never tried before. I moved the bench back and sat on the floor. The sound reflecting off the wood floors made everything richer and when I pounded the keys they were much brighter than normal. Then I laid on my back facing the bottom of the piano and reached up with one hand to play. It was brighter still, even harsh and tinny at times but rich. How I wished I could clone myself just for a minute and have Richard #1 play my heart’s content while I, Richard #2, laid below to absorb it all in.

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