Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Legendary Baby Grand Piano

A player piano from 1914
I was thinking about my piano years the other day, because the holiday season is around the corner (approximately) and that is my time to play the piano once again. I took piano lessons for 6 years as a teenager, and though there was a brief time when I was competent, and fond of playing Scott Joplin rags, after I left home I never really had a piano again and lost what little ability I had. We have a keyboard now, so once a year I haul out the Christmas music and try to remember what I once knew. It's always a lot of fun and I always mean to keep practicing, but you know how it goes. There's always a ton of other stuff to do.

My parents had a little upright piano from the 1920s, which fit pretty well in our apartment. That's what I played on when I took lessons. And my grandparents had had a player piano (and lots of music rolls for it) from the same era, which lived in the basement of my aunt's house. My aunt showed us how it worked once, and it was as much fun as the ad on your right would suggest.

And all of this reminded me about my great aunt Augusta's legendary baby grand, which she must have bought at a Piano Store in New York back in the 1930s, when she finally settled down after a decade of travel, graduate school and work out West. My mother thought she was going to inherit the baby grand (she didn't, though, I don't know why). It was cream colored and had been signed, inside the lid, by a "famous musician" (I don't know who, and I suspect my mother didn't either). The baby grand is the smallest kind of grand piano, by the way. A concert grand is about 10 feet long and the baby grand is about 5 feet long. I remember seeing the baby grand in my great aunt's little apartment in Queens, but I was never allowed to play it.  My great aunt had it out in the middle of the living room, which is what you have to do with any size of grand piano - and there wasn't room for a lot of other furniture. I'm not sure if we ever sat down when we visited, come to think of it.

Grand piano, ca 1781 (Wikipedia)
My mother and great aunt were both excellent pianists, and in doing genealogical research over the years, I realize that they were part of a whole musical tradition in the family. I recently found out that one of my 4th great grandfathers (born around 1780) was a court musician in Mecklenburg-Schwerin (in northern Germany) in the early 19th century. I wish I could tell you that he played the harpsichord, because that would work so beautifully in this post, but he played the oboe. And by the 1830s he had made a career change and was working as a government clerk of some kind. I like to think he was still playing the oboe for fun and enjoyment, though, because making music - no matter what your level of skill is - is just such a great thing to do. I'm looking forward to those Christmas carols already. And maybe one of my New Year's resolutions for 2014 will be to keep on playing.

No comments: