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Showing posts from January, 2012

Two Ways of Looking at a Piano

Being a somewhat postmodern 18-year-old, I started telling myself a story right away about my piano, why I had it, what it meant. I believed that having this piano meant that God must love me, that I must mean more to Him than just one of the faceless multitudes He died for. I was astounded at the level of trust and care that my piano teacher had shown in loaning me the additional money I needed. Maybe God had a face; maybe He wanted me to be happy. That was the story I told. But I look back now and listen to another story that was only a whisper all those years - the story I actually believed. In the real story, God had given me more than I deserved out of the scarce resources of the world. Maybe He gave it to me so I would stop bothering Him. I couldn't ask for other things because already I had too much, and I owed Him a lifetime of gratitude. My value had risen from $25 to $2000, no higher.

The Dream That Came True

The mahogany baby grand was a 6o-year-old Baldwin that had been almost completely rebuilt on the inside by a piano technician. It was showcased in the technician's basement, the lid open. It had nearly perfect ivory keys, hardly yellowed, and almost everything inside was new - the strings, the hammers, the rest of the action. He had put a shim in the original soundboard. I sat down to play it and its tone was slightly mellow, almost exactly the sound I'd been looking for all those years. Secretly I'd wanted a mahogany finish, too, but that was the lowest specification on my list. The piano was $2000 out of my price range. At my piano lesson that week, I told my teacher that I'd have to keep looking. But she loaned me $2000 instead.

The Girl Who Won't Go Away

I did eventually start seriously considering a career in music. We had moved back to the greater D.C. area where the piano studios were more competitive, and it turned out that I was a good pianist. I started saving up for a grand piano when I was around 12. It was difficult for me to explain to people why I was saving for an instrument rather than for a car or college. Also, why not buy an upright instead, which would be less expensive? But I stuck to my goal all through my teen years, even after I finally decided to pursue writing as a career rather than music. When my zero coupon and CD matured, I dropped the cash into my piano savings account. When I look back on the girl who did all that, part of me is amazed. But part of me is just ashamed, for wanting so much, for being different, for lugging around a dream that was way too big for me and stuck out of my life like a sore thumb.

Becoming Me

Third grade was my first year of piano lessons, the year my parents bought the piano, my first year being homeschooled. I had also decided by now that I wanted to be a novelist. I had started scribbling stories after discovering the American Girl books. I loved playing the piano as much as I loved writing, but I didn't think about pursuing it as a career. The idea simply didn't occur to me. Playing the piano was personal, beautiful, fun, a way to express myself without words. My favorite things to do, I decided, were reading, writing, and playing piano. And they still are. I was only 8 years old, but I had already defined my identity - who I was, stretched out as rigid as steel wires on a cast iron frame.

The First Piano

When I turned 6, my grandfather died and my family moved to another state. One Christmas, my grandmother gave us an electric keyboard. Eventually I started taking piano lessons with a local piano teacher who was in a wheelchair due to an accident when she was a missionary in Africa. It was okay practicing on the keyboard, but I needed a real piano. My parents heard about an estate sale nearby with a piano being sold, so they took me there. We picked our way through the clutter of a dead person's furniture to an imposing upright piano, paneled with solid, dark brown wood. I played "Do, a Deer" on the discolored ivory keys. The people standing around clapped as though I had done something amazing. The piano was $25. "We'll take it," my father said. I'll never forget seeing his hand holding out the payment to the estate agent. I felt like I was being given the universe.

Once Upon a Time . . .

. . . there was a little girl who wanted a piano. My grandfather, a bald man with a big round belly, played the piano. He had a sophisticated-looking black console with wide, heavily weighted ivory keys and a mellow sound. I loved the feeling of pressing those keys. I remember my brother got in trouble for driving a matchbox car across the keyboard, but my grandfather didn't mind me playing the piano, as long as I was very, very careful.

Preface

I've decided to use the next few posts to tell a story in installments. The story is about a particular thread that has woven through my life since I was around 4 years old. It's a story about something solid and tangible that reminds me day in and day out of God's true nature. Because this story is about specific facts, it's more personal than most of what I write. But because stories are universal, you can find meanings of your own in it. It will happen in installments because I set myself a challenge a few months ago to write single-paragraph blog entries.