What do you want to do about the piano at your father’s house? Everyone asks me because I’m the only one who plays piano. I taught myself to play on that piano. It ought to be mine, right? But wait. I already have a piano.
The piano is a Kranich & Bach cabinet grand, patented 1886. Take the baby grands we’re used to seeing on concert stages, turn them sideways, and that’s what this is. It’s a beautiful thing, and if it weren’t so God-awful out of tune, it would offer a big, rich sound. The keys are ivory and intact, the pedals are sturdy, and there is a delightful round stool that you spin to adjust the height. As kids, my brother Mike and I had a good time spinning on it at Grandpa Fagalde’s house until some grownup made us stop.
But we’re not children now. Grandpa is long gone, and now our parents are gone. We’re cleaning out the house they bought in 1950. As I understand it, Grandpa got the piano from his boss, Jack Dorrance, when he was the foreman on the Dorrance ranch in San Jose. Jack had show business aspirations. His family had more than one piano. At some point, this one may have provided music in the little theater he built on the ranch. I suppose my parents brought it home when Grandpa retired to the beach.
I didn’t have piano lessons. I envy people who did. My father apparently thought Mom, who did have lessons, could teach us. But taking lessons doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach. She showed my brother Mike and me where Middle C was and gave us her old books to teach ourselves the rest. Mike lost interest, but I started a lifelong obsession with pianos, really anything with keys. I learned the notes. I played through the one-hand exercises, moved on to two, three, and more notes at a time. I practiced counting four-four, three-four, six-eight.
Not having lessons means I never learned proper fingering, and I can’t do scales worth beans, but I can make music. I even get paid for it these days as a music minister at Sacred Heart Church.
As an adult, I didn’t have a piano for a long time. I sneaked into the practice rooms at San Jose State. I grabbed time on my parents’ piano when they weren’t around. For a while between marriages, I rented a piano, feeling bad for the guys who had to get it up the stairs. Mostly I played guitar instead because it was cheaper and more portable. Also, it was the ‘60s and everybody was playing guitar.
My late husband’s wedding present to me was a piano, a Wurlitzer spinet, not as fancy as the old cabinet grand, but mine, and I could play it whenever I wanted. Fred knew the way to my heart. That instrument is scarred now from our many moves and three decades of hard use, but it sounds good, and it’s my piano. Do I want to replace it with the old Kranich & Bach, forgetting for the moment the cost of fixing it up and shipping it to Oregon?
After my father died, I came home, looked at my piano and knew that’s the one I want to keep, not the antique that was never really mine. But somebody needs to keep it and love it. My brother and I have asked around about the value of such an old, elegant piano. It seems it’s not worth much money in this digital world. It was not a deluxe model, plus musicians are going for electronic pianos these days. I play one at church, and I love all its many features, but there’s nothing like the feel and sound of a real piano.
That old Kranich & Bach is a beautiful piece of furniture, mostly used as a rack for family photographs in recent times. Is there someone lurking in the family who secretly wants to play piano? Does anyone remember how Grandpa used to bang out songs honky-tonk style with no training at all?
Grandpa Fagalde was always buying and trading musical instruments. Remember the pump organ in the garage? In his day, pre-TV, pre-Internet, everybody played music. Families would bring out their instruments after dinner and jam. And every house had a piano. Tune it? Not in the years since I’ve been around. I have friends who won’t perform on a piano that has not been tuned THAT DAY. I guess folks weren’t so picky a hundred years ago.
I can see this piano in an Old West saloon, the kind with swinging doors, floozies entertaining cowboys, and the stranger leaning on the bar, saying, “Whiskey!”
Where do I find that saloon?
The piano is in San Jose. If anyone has a yen to adopt it for their home, a museum, a school, a senior center, or anywhere it would be played and loved, let me know at email@example.com. I would be willing to pay the cost of making it sound its best again if somebody wants to give it a good home.