Ignore the Elephants Honey, Now There’s a Big, Beautiful Piano in My Living Room!
by Debra Chappell
View From The Living Room:
Mood Reading: ZZZZ’s (slept well last night since I was up the night before – the combination of too much red wine and the light from the blood moon streaming in)
The other evening friends came over for appetizers before we all headed out to dinner. It was the first time my good friend Linda heard the story of my “new” 100 year old piano – though I felt sure I had blogged about it when I first got it over 9 months ago. “No,” she assured me, “this is the first I’ve heard of it – are you sure you blogged about it”. Low and behold, I remembered then what kept me from posting the blog I had written when the coveted instrument arrived – I simply couldn’t remember how to play it!
The piano came from the estate of our dear friend Charles, who passed away a few years ago, far too soon. Charles was a warm, kind, caring man…a doctor…our doctor and our friend, who was quick with laugh, a witty (and sometimes off color) joke, and who had a devilish independence from the ‘normal’ sometimes-stuffy medical culture. He was smart, wise, a serious thinker and hilarious, all at the same time, and at his best after homemade tortillas, a few cigars and generous margaritas with friends around his outdoor fireplace.
For as long as I can remember, the grand piano stood discreetly under the open staircase of their spacious family home in Reno, like a beauty in the shadows who one quietly notices, and somehow can’t forget. Every time we visited, I more than noticed it… I secretly coveted it as it stood silent yet majestic in the background. I always assumed it was his wife Norma who played… Only after he died, did I learn from their children Brian and Alicia, that it was Charles who was the gifted musician – who had been offered and turned down a scholarship to Julliard to pursue his medical career.
It is a very special piano indeed. We discovered after we bought it (for a very modest sum that Brian, Alicia and their spouses generously offered) how truly special it is. For me, and for my husband, it’s true value is in its history as Charles cherished piano, a sound of joy in a very happy family home, and a treasured benevolent friend and comfort to him after his beloved Norma passed away. For that alone we are privileged and grateful to have it, and it’s personal value is priceless. But we learned upon it’s arrival in our own home that as a Knabe Concert Grand Piano, one of the last American made – 100 years old this year – in terrific condition, it’s market value is far greater (that is the understatement of the year!) than the piddly amount Brian and Alicia accepted for it. (“We’re just happy it’s going to a home we know will care for and enjoy it”)
If I’d known it’s monetary value before I sat down to try it out that afternoon before the estate sale – I would have never proceeded to play a note. I would have been nervous, intimidated, and paralyzed by my gross inadequacy upon such a masterpiece, like a newly licensed driver behind the wheel of a Formula One race car. But in my glorious ignorance, sit down I did and pounded away the little that I could still remember. Some of my elementary recital songs came haltingly back in bits and pieces, fits and starts, and though I couldn’t finish a single tune, I knew I not only wanted a piano in the house again, I wanted this one.
And the sound? Oh the sound of that piano was magnificent, even as badly as I played it…and completely captivated me from the very first strains of my humbled and fumbled Fur Elise.
(*click on following youtube links for excruciating demonstration by yours truly.)
And no matter that I had no clue as to how or where it would fit in our modestly sized home (“it is the size of a damned Mini-Cooper” , as the hubby gently reminded me.) And where exactly it would reside was still to be hotly debated, I knew instinctively that somehow, someway, come hell or high water, no matter the cost (which thanks to Brian, Alicia their spouses and heirs, was akin to stealing) and even if it took up the whole of our living space – which it happily does, this piano was coming home .
Watching the piano movers move it into our house was like watching childbirth. It was excruciatingly slow and often painful, complete with requisite grunts, groans and shouts to “PUSH”. But when David, the artisan who not only moves them, but tunes them, rebuilds them, regulates them, and splendidly plays them, had it in exactly the right spot, he asked if he could be the first to play it. He wanted to put the keyboard through it’s paces to assure the quality had been retained during the move. When he began to play, the room filled spectacularly with it’s magnificent sound, and my eyes with tears right along with it. It was simply breathtaking.
After such a marvelously talented display, I must admit I was loathe to sit down the next morning and pick out my own first clumsy bars of Clair de Lune.
After all, it had been more than 30 years since the last time I had played on our old banged up family piano that had been banished to the garage. But my hesitancy soon vanished when I discovered its patient, open invitation every time I walked by the beckoning keyboard. I simply couldn’t help myself. I started playing a bit every day, trying to remember a little more of all the songs I learned in grade school each time. And amazingly, as I sat for several consecutive days after, I discovered if I just played without thinking, I could get a little further each time. It was if this magnificent piano was coaxing me along, telling me not to give up, to just let my fingers relax and it would show me the way.
Okay, so I know I’m not very good. And I have vowed to utilize the lessons my husband presented me with for Xmas (I wonder if it was a hint?) But you know what? I don’t even care. Like the rock star in all of us who sings in the shower at the top of our lungs convinced we sound at least as good as Tina Turner or Bruce Springsteen, I am having a ball. I sit down at regular intervals on any given day and play my heart out, my entire repertoire (so what if it’s only 5 or 6 songs total, the only ones that I can remember, and all of which I learned in grade school – to me it constitutes a repertoire and it’s a special reunion of sorts!)
I imagine that somewhere up there, Charles and Norma are sharing a margarita and laughing and cringing as Charles lights another cigar and says “geez Norma, what in the hell were those kids thinking?….”
And as for anyone who comments about the Mini-Cooper filling our entire family room, well, they just don’t get it — and they certainly won’t be invited back!
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WOW – read your Blog and the tears still haven’t stopped rolling down my face. I loved your piano story, accompanied with video piano playing blurbs (you sound beautiful). I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know the piano brings you so much joy. I loved hearing it in my parents’ home. My dad would always play when he had free time. My mom especially loved the music while she was getting dinner ready. We had so many mini family concerts together. One of my favorite memories is when Brian and Leigh were in Beliz, I brought Remi with me to SF and then Reno. She was about 2 years old. My dad played my parent’s wedding song, “More” with Remi on his shoulders.
Thank for sharing – it means the world to me:)
Please give my best to Steve and the boys.
I’m so thrilled you liked the piece. And was happy to hear further the history within the family of this marvelous piano-it came from such a happy loving place. I’m going to post your email on the blog as it adds such wonderful interesting detail to the story-THANKYOU for taking the time to share it.
Again, I just love playing it (even as convoluted and badly as I do) and look forward to happy years ahead tinkling the ivories (or pounding away on the less than stellar days : )
Thank you and your wonderful family again… For your warm friendship and this beautiful gift of memories and music.
Last year, we set out on the emotional journey of settling the estate of my amazing in-laws. Norma and Charlie spent over 40 years creating one of the most beautiful homes I have ever had the honor of visiting. Every single piece of artwork, furniture and accent piece had a story and a legacy. Our dear friends, Steve and Debbie Chappell, agreed to provide a warm and caring home for Charlies beloved grand piano. This amazing piano was a gift to Charlie from Norma, and provided many, many years of entertainment and joy. We are thrilled that it is being equally loved and adored in it’s new home. I absolutely believe that Charlie and Norma are sitting back, cradling large and whirling snifters of Remi Martin….smiling as they listen to Debbie play. Thank you, Debbie, for sharing!
Oh Leigh! This was such a lovely response-thank you. With your permission I will post your comment on the blog-it sheds additional light on the legacy of this special piano-and brought tears to my eyes. I was touched also to learn the piano was a gift from Norma to Charles-I hadn’t known that. Thank you again -and your family. You all have our everlasting love and gratitude.
Debbie! Your piano skills have come so far since that one night I stayed over shortly after you received the piano… wine, Mocha and Debbie playing Clair de Lune… in moments like those it simply can’t get better!
Beautiful story, woman and song!! Thanks for sharing Deb!
“I agree with Nancy.”
I love a woman that is willing to try new things…Hairstyle, piano or writing a book! You continue to amaze me. You are my Super Hero!!!
Loved the concert. You have improved since I last heard you play. Except for maybe the bumble bee one! 😉
er, uh…worth the SIX minutes.
btw, the Elton John endorsement of these fellas is worth the 3 minutes…
So, here’s a bit of modern ‘Croation’ cello to add to your visions of future musical ‘flights’…
Enjoy, as these guys are the real deal…these daze!
Whoa…you do pretty well for getting back in the saddle after so long!!! Beautiful piece, piano and story. …like your hair cut too!!!have fun at Paula s tonight and give some hugs from me!