Thursday, May 5, 2016

Player Piano

Sam Simas is a Technology Assistant at the Morrill Memorial Library this winter and spring. Read Sam's column in the May 5, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

           Alice cleans up when people move, or leave, or need to cut the clutter of their never-organized closets.  And she finds, between the discarded lamps, yellow curtains, creaking bed frames, rusted bicycles, and cracked tile floors, the remnants of family holidays, birthdays, and many, many, abandoned pianos.

Most people don’t come into the possession of pianos by chance.  Some don’t even come into the possession of pianos on purpose.  They’re hard to move, to sell, to learn to play if one didn’t have the luck of being born a child prodigy.  Pianos are not for the faint of heart.  After seeing a few upright and baby grand pianos passed me by, not even my second-floor apartment would stop me from shouting an emphatic, “Yes!” when Alice asked if I wanted an old out-of-tune spinet piano--a perfectly apartment-sized piano.

            “Alright,” she said, “but you’re going to have to move it.”

            I had a mover on the phone that night.  The next day he arrived with his tape to measure the walls and staircase and doorways.  He left, letting me know that he’d be back in a week with a team of movers and the spinet piano in his truck.

            During the days before the four movers shimmied the piano up the narrow staircase of my building, I amused myself with the potential for entertaining people with the piano skills I had yet to acquire.  I imagined Jay Gatsby styled parties in the summer with swanky people (I would also need to meet some swanky people) sipping boxed-wine and taking turns playing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” or a New Year’s Eve spent singing “Auld Lang Syne.”  I hoped people would stroll by the building on sunny days, hear melodies drifting out of the windows, and stop to listen.  But, as I had yet to learn the difference between one key and another, I had a long way to go.

            After the movers wiped the sweat from their foreheads and rolled their dolly back into the moving van, I admired the cobwebs and sheen of dust over the maple wood.  I cleaned the keys, the legs, the Baldwin logo, and then sat on the bench.  I jabbed randomly at the white keys and then the black ones, trying to piece together a coherent melody.  A mouse, running away from a cat across the keys, would have sounded better than my awkward playing.  And, with each note, I shrunk with guilt and embarrassment, knowing that my neighbors could hear (and probably were already digging through their drawers for ear-plugs), and that the fleeting dreams I had of entertaining would be just that, dreams.

The next day, I went to work at the Morrill Memorial Library, and I my co-workers asked me about the piano.  How did the move go?  Can you play?  Yes, it went well.  No, I can’t play, I responded.  Patty asked me: Well, are you going to learn?  Irene played light piano jazz from her computer while we tapped at our keyboards as motivation.  I weighed the enormous task of teaching myself piano while working and juggling the torrential downpour of schoolwork from my graduate studies.  Maybe I would, I thought, and I had the entire library at my fingertips to help me.

During my break, I clicked through the catalog looking for books on playing piano.  It didn’t take long for me to find books like “Piano” by Gillian Shepheard and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Piano” (which I desperately needed).  I requested them and waited a day or two, keeping myself preoccupied with the books I plucked from the 786s in the Morrill’s stacks. 

Books propped on the piano, I am not creeping through the scales and the tones and the notes of the keyboard.  I have stumbled from “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to “Auld Lang Syne,” but still haven’t reached “Piano Man.”  The progress has been slow, but with the library’s resources, I’m sure I might one day be able to entertain at my apartment.  Maybe not a swanky party like in The Great Gastby.  Maybe just a cookout.  And, maybe, someone will walk by the apartment, hear the music, and think, “Well, it’s not that bad.”