I don’t have any money. I don’t have any room for it. I have easy access to pianos elsewhere. But I almost bought a piano a couple of days ago.
Classic Pianos, on Milwaukie and Powell here in Portland, has been having a basement sale to clear out inventory. As I was riding a bus into Downtown, that sign above, $99 piano, caught my eye. I don’t care what the piano sounds like, or how it’s been taken care of. If it plays and is capable of holding tune, 99 dollars is a ludicrously low price for a piano. I had an appointment with my therapist, but the whole time I was in session, a small part of my brain was arguing: “Dude, you have no money.” “Yeah, but, come on, I have $99. And you’re never going to see that price again.” “But you’re starting school next week, you’re going to need money.” “But it’s a piano.”
By the time the appointment was over, common sense had returned. It’s a hundred dollars, but that’s not the only cost associated with owning a piano. Plus, there was no was I was going to get my roommates to go for it. I decided that there was no way that it was going to happen, and I should head home after the appointment.
When my bus stopped at Milwaukie and Powell, there was a person in a wheelchair getting off, so we were stopped a little longer than usual. And in that brief extra time, my heart really wanted to touch the piano on the street, and my brain gave its OK. There was an upright, the one in the picture, as well as a charming spinet. The spinet was more in tune, as well as having a clearer tone, but as soon as I went over to check to make sure all the keys were working, a salesman came outside and invited me to check out the showroom and the basement pianos.
I walked into the store, and was immediately assaulted by the memories of wild pianos I have known. There was a black Bösendorfer, the same size as the one in the Reed College practice rooms. A gaudy white Yamaha baby grand that my 11 year old self would have drooled over. A classic shiny black upright, the piano that I always imagined I would have in my sophisticated apartment, or cloistered away in my home studio. A blonde parlor grand, like that owned by my music teacher. When I went downstairs to the basement, I was even able to find a couple of Baldwin Acrosonic spinets, like the one in my childhood home, though none of them was exactly the same model. Good thing, too. I might have lost it.
I was overtaken with some mixture of happiness, sadness, and a kind of deep excitement. Part of it was the nostalgia of recognizing the different pianos that I’ve formed an attachement to. Part of it was the simple regret that I don’t have a spare $3,000 or $5,000 to throw around right now to do it right. But the best part was a little of the childlike enthusiasm that used to be inseparable from the experience of playing and listening to music for me.
Once I had decided that I really wasn’t in a place to buy a piano, I just spent some time playing. I sat down at a beautiful Yamaha grand, and launched into my memorized five or six minutes of the Schubert Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D.960. I haven’t made the progress with it that I’ve wanted, but for that amount of time, I can fake some level of virtuosity. There was a feeling of security and confidence that came to me, that this world is not a mystery, that these are things that I know, that this arrangement of black and white levers is neither foreign nor mysterious nor intimidating. These are my tools.
That was such a rush. That feeling of play and excitement often feels like something I misplaced. And retracing my steps these last couple of years can feel like being an amnesiac recovering lost memory. It’s frustrating, because at this point in my life, time feels like this ever accelerating force, like the frontiers of an expanding universe, but unless I have that sense of play, I will always be fighting myself musically. It was good to sit down in that room and play. It reassured me that, you know what, I’ve been doing this a while. I’m not the best, but I know some things. And I can do even better, even greater, if I get out of my own way.