Thursday, December 11, 2008

Steinway pianos

This evening, NPR reported that the University of Cincinnati's Conservatory of Music is buying 165 new Steinway pianos, more than four million dollars' worth. This includes the venerable Steinway Model D nine foot long grand, one of the best pianos on earth. I know, because I once played one.

I studied piano when I was a child, and have played on and off most of my life. I don't play much anymore, but really should get back into practice now that I'm retired - but that's another story. When I was in high school, I attended Kentucky Girls' State, a kind of week long seminar on government and civics for high-ranked high school juniors. (There was a Boy's State too.) It was held at various universities around the state right after the end of spring semester, so we had the campus to ourselves. Ten girls went from my high school, a usual number for most, so there was quite a crowd in attendance - hundreds. The year I was selected, it was at Transylvania University at Lexington, Ky. (OK, don't laugh. That's the name of this small private university. And it's very well regarded.)

The last evening of the seminar, there was a voluntary talent show. Now, while I had been playing piano for some time, I was terribly shy and very nervous, but I decided that it would be good to participate. So I signed up. Then, I had to decide what to play. Classical? Good in theory, but my selection should be entertaining, and Bach or Debussy might not be everyone's cup of tea. Also, there were a number of pianists and classically trained singers on the bill and I wanted to stand out a little.

I decided on a wonderful piano transcription of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" I had learned earlier in the year. Think what you want about Simon and Garfunkel, that was a beautiful song, and this arrangement was stunning. And that year it was THE song. So I was all set.

The day before the show, I slipped into the auditorium to practice at lunch break. The Steinway sat on the side of the stage, ignored, in the hall where we had been holding mock caucuses and elections, and creating a model state government. The piano was black and shiny. It was big. REALLY big. I sat down, folded back the fall and played a few cords.

Holy Moses. Now THIS was a piano. I warmed up and played through the song. The instrument was stunning. Responsive didn't describe it. It purred, it roared, it sang. The touch was flawless, and the tone. . .I had a nice studio piano at home, and I had played on some good instruments, but this was amazing. It boosted my confidence. It made even an average pianist sound good.

The night of the concert, I was shaky but marched out there in front of hundreds of people and performed. I like to think that marvelous piano helped my nerves. Close your eyes and remember the song - delete the vocals and just think about that lyrical piano line in the background. Now add the melody over it and imagine that ascending crescendo of chords at the end. Imagine it performed live on a nine foot mammoth of a piano, thundering into the auditorium, filling the air above the audience with an expanding wave of music. When I finished, there was dead silence. Then the auditorium erupted in applause. They were on their feet!

I took a flustered bow and bolted for the wings, blushing bright scarlet. Thank you, Steinway.


paula, the quilter said...


Tanya said...

What a wonderful opportunity but I'm sure the pianist has to have some skill! Not everyone would even know what to do at a Steinway... nor appreciate it as you do.