We don’t know (and now it’s too late to ask) how my father came by a vintage Bechstein Grand in the 1970s, but it fitted into an annexe-like space at the back of our house, and my mother and I used to tear a strip out of it, playing duets after coming home from school/work. It’s a very happy musical memory. After that the instrument followed my parents around as they downsized, moving twice between England and Scotland, and somehow just about fitting into their various living rooms. It was a significant day when, in a hurry, we had to move the piano out of their flat so that an urgently needed ground floor bed could take its place. Getting the piano (increasingly large in my perception) up the poky landings of my own place was an obvious no-no, and so our generous musician neighbour David Powell offered some space to house it, which he and his family eventually did for six years.
When my parents died last year, we wondered what should happen to the piano, which was by now over a hundred years old and had tuners stroking their chins as they sympthetically listed its problems. It became clear that the choices were either a costly refurb or (in due course) the junk heap. In the end it was in the spirit of recycling, loving the planet and hating to throw a crafted object away that we dug very deep into our pockets. Via Jacques Samuel the piano travelled to Piano Fiks, somewhere between Wroclaw and Lodz, from where it returned in good-as-new condition this autumn. Having rebuilt a first-floor window (!) and attended by a sizeable group of passers-by, we gathered to see a crane from Piano Logistics (operated seemingly from a Gameboy console) swinging the instrument about, eventually successfully, into our one big-enough room.
The sight of a giant piano body dangling above the street provoked many interesting remarks, and I was struck by how many neighbours, not hitherto obvious classical music buffs, said they had once played the piano/had grown up with a piano but couldn’t find enough space for one now, all expressed in an affectionate, nostalgic spirit. Everything that was said suggested the opposite of ‘classical music is dead’. In the living room however, looking at this enormous piece of historical furniture, I’m wondering if some misunderstandings about classical music arise from the perceived grandeur and near-immovable weight of its ‘mothership’, the grand piano.