A Sleeping Piano

In the base­ment of my par­ents’ house lies a silent trea­sure, an upright piano from the late 19th cen­tu­ry. The instru­ment accom­pa­nied my child­hood. My moth­er would have liked one of us to learn the piano. As a good Giguère, she loved the play­ful atmos­phere, the fam­i­ly gath­er­ings where we sang. I was into books and clas­si­cal music, folk impro­vi­sa­tion wasn’t my forte. It’s all vague in my mem­o­ry. Marie, the youngest I did­n’t know as a teenag­er because I left ear­ly to study in the city, remind­ed me that she used to study piano for six years. Mom had tak­en a few ses­sions with the same teacher. She told me that she was too ner­vous to play, but that her learn­ing had helped her deci­pher the scores, which helped her a lot in the parish choir.

This piano had come into the fam­i­ly when we arrived in Ste-Croix. I was nine years old. The piano fol­lowed the par­ents to the two hous­es they had lived in for 50 years. It is made of ebony wood, I think, has all its keys, and weighs like a pyramid.

Mum had had it tuned, but from the begin­ning, the accom­pa­nists had warned that the piano could not be adjust­ed to the mod­ern pitch, as this would dam­age the sound­board. I don’t know if this is true or if the work on the instru­ment was sim­ply beyond the com­pe­tence of these hon­est people.

Yes­ter­day, while vis­it­ing my par­ents, a vis­it so much desired since the begin­ning of the pan­dem­ic, we talked about the past, also about the piano and the many objects that clut­ter the base­ment. My father blew out 86 can­dles in Spring, mom 82 in June. The house is start­ing to get clut­tered, and they are increas­ing­ly express­ing the desire to get rid of cer­tain things.

When I returned to Mon­tre­al, I start­ed my research right away. Although my moth­er was told at the time of pur­chase that the piano dat­ed from 1876, the ser­i­al num­ber would put its man­u­fac­ture more in 1880. What com­pli­cates things is that this Ger­man piano mak­er had sev­er­al names, and this late 19th-cen­tu­ry era seems a bit confusing.

Nev­er­the­less, it is still fas­ci­nat­ing to see an old, stur­dy Ger­man piano sleep­ing in the base­ment of a Que­bec house. In whose hands did it pass ? When did it cross the Atlantic ? What melodies could be played on it ?

I didn’t ask myself these ques­tions when I was young. I used to come and pour in a few awk­ward chords to accom­pa­ny my teenage moods. Now that my present is lined with the lace of mem­o­ry, I would have liked this instru­ment to have had its own mem­o­ry that you could sim­ply play, like a mechan­i­cal piano.

My last ques­tion is more pro­sa­ic : how much is such an antique worth ? It seems to me that it would be stu­pid to leave it to an unknown Kiji­ji member…

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to give him a new lease of life, to have him play some clever Chopin or Rav­el ? If I had the bud­get, I would cer­tain­ly bring that old piano into my house. It would be my con­ti­nu­ity, my link with the hap­py past and present that is my family.

I’m throw­ing a bot­tle into the sea. Some­body will no doubt know how to say, “What to do about that piano. It is beau­ti­ful and qui­et as a cer­tain­ty, a tree. It must not die.