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.