Our downsizing has had noticeable reverberations which were to be expected. For the most part I think we’ve adjusted rather well. While the exercise is by definition mostly of material proportions only there have nonetheless been certain philosophic alterations such as embracing what is unquestionably for some the stigma of renting property as opposed to owning it (though I hasten to add it is a deprivation we’re happily able to bear).
What I hadn’t anticipated however was the mercurial events surrounding the abandonment of my pianoforte or at least its evolutionary successor the grand piano. I got it into my head when I retired that I would do as I had heard so many other amateur pianists had done; namely, give it up. Quite apart from the matter of precedent the frozen truth was that my playing had become highly repetitive and while I won’t say that my Steinway was at risk of becoming a table for the display of cut flowers it was unquestionably falling into disuse. Motivated by the unmanageability of its size in a small apartment it made sense to dispose of it (not to mention the likelihood of my notorious pounding à la Rachmaninoff being quite unwelcome).
The grand piano – along with many of our other once favourite pieces (Oriental rugs, sterling silver, bronze sculpture, fine art and antique mahogany furniture) – disappeared in a flash. Between Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, Gilles Duperé of Heirloom Consignment and Kijiji, we restored ourselves to modest habitation. When we moved into the apartment it was a perfect fit for what remained. And for half a year nothing changed.
I should have known that I wouldn’t last long without a piano. All my life I had been playing a piano. When I was at University or in Law School I always managed to locate a grand piano on campus somewhere. When I graduated from Law School my parents gave me the Heintzman upright we had when I was ten years old. This I kept until I moved to Almonte and bought a 70 year old Heintzman grand piano from the estate of a deceased client of mine. I traded that piano for a new Steinway L Grand which served me admirably for over 30 years.
In 2014 while wintering on Hilton Head Island I trundled into a music store and played an electronic keyboard. Though I had previously tested an electronic keyboard in Ottawa I hadn’t been sold on them. The instrument was very different from a grand piano. I also recall having played an electronic keyboard in Montepulciano, Tuscany but having been quite unimpressed. This time however on Hilton Head Island I admit to having been intrigued. When I now look back on that adventure I am surprised I was so taken with it because I really hadn’t a clue about how to manipulate it to full advantage. Anyway, as you might imagine, I ended returning to the music store a week later and bought the keyboard. This particular keyboard – a Korg SP 280 – retailed at about $1,000 which is at the low end of these instruments which can rapidly become very complicated and commensurately expensive. They don’t however compare with the Steinway grands which today cost in excess of $100,000. The other decisive feature about the keyboard aside from its compelling price is that it is portable.
I installed the keyboard in the living room of our 3-bedroom house on Hilton Head Island. I should add that part of the reasoning for buying the device was that I could use headphones and therefore avoid publication of my repetitious repertoire. Interestingly I discovered almost by accident that having superlative headphones contributes enormously to the quality of sound reproduction. In fact the sound is so magnificent as to border upon deceit! The electronic keyboard is to the piano what the iPhone camera is to photography, an utter camouflage. I can tell you I didn’t mind in the least! Now I had at my disposal a choir, strings, a pipe organ and a harpsichord. And I could combine any two of them at the same time! The technicality made up for a lot of shortcomings in my personal performance. The delight I experienced with my extraordinary headphones ensured that the Nirvana remained a private affair but, after having compared the production using the built-in speakers only, I was not at all reluctant about preserving my privacy.
We transported the electronic keyboard back to Canada where it remained on its end in a carrying case in a closet until we returned to Hilton Head Island the following winter. By that summer my mother had moved into her retirement residence where there were two grand pianos and I regularly afforded myself the opportunity of playing for the residents. When we returned from Hilton Head Island this spring I once again stored the keyboard in the closet. Until a week ago it remained there (and I continued to play the pianos at my mother’s retirement residence).
A week ago I decided to withdraw the keyboard from the closet and from its carrying case. Prompted by a mysterious madness we assembled the legs of the keyboard, attached them (requiring a couple of tries admittedly), set it up in the bedroom (using as a bench a small sturdy table I happened to have) and plugged in the device and the headphones. Electronic keyboards, unlike the harp of a grand piano, never go out of tune with the change of the seasons or humidity. Just plug it in and away it goes! I should note that the decision to place the keyboard in the bedroom was one made with some difficulty. The apartment is so small and so exquisitely planned for what is already in it that the addition of the keyboard posed a bit of a problem. It turns out that the degeneration of my daily wardrobe to shorts, Polo shirt and Top Siders has meant that I no longer require ready access to every closet. So we placed the keyboard against the one closet I seldom open. This of course meant that it was out of the way. In fact it appears to be quite happy in its present situation and I have the advantage of the patio door onto the balcony for light to my left when playing.
What has astounded me more than anything about having the keyboard set up in the apartment is that I have restored the very comfortable feeling to which I was accustomed by having a piano at my disposal in my residence. This is especially odd when I compare that I had the identical instrument set up in the condo on Hilton Head Island. And even though both the condo there and the apartment here are rented, our place in Canada is naturally much more our own because of course it contains all our personal belongings and furnishings unlike the condo on Hilton Head Island. I can only conclude that it is this difference which has illuminated the device in Canada. We have already discussed that we’re not bringing the device with us this year when we return to Hilton Head Island. Although I haven’t yet located anywhere on Hilton Head Island where I may expropriate a grand piano to my temporary use, I have determined that I can live without the keyboard for the five months we are there. It just seems too much of a compromise to pull the device out of my treasured personal environment. This may sound strange, I know, but it is undeniable. When I was playing the keyboard today I was overwhelmed with sentiments which I hadn’t recalled for years, all because the music and the environment melded to create their special evocation. This is important because music, more than anything else, is the way I express myself. Every home should have books and a piano. We’ve got them both!