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Some of you will know that I can play the piano and that I’ve been banging on for years about how I have a piano but that it’s in Essex which is a long way from me in Leicestershire. Some of you will also know that I moved house in December to a house that has room for said piano. This is the story of me and my piano. Well, me and pianos in general really.

 

Me and my family gathered around the piano. Corny! Family archive.

 

I grew up in a house that had a piano: my mum plays and while my dad knows where all the notes are, he is unaccomplished at playing them in the right order due to a lack of application in his younger years! My mum played the piano whilst pregnant with me and then played with me sitting on her lap as I grew into a toddler. You could say I was born to it.

 

My maternal grandma had a piano. It was a very old piano – it had been her father’s – and probably not a particularly good one but it sounded gorgeous. You couldn’t play Beethoven on it and hope for any gravitas but all the old songs from the 20s and 30s and lighter classical pieces sounded magical to my untrained ear. She had a special way of playing. Her hands were unable to stretch to play chords so she played them as broken chords, and she had a lightness of touch that made the piano sing and tinkle in a beautifully old-fashioned way. I tried so many times to emulate the sound she teased out of that old instrument but never succeeded. One of the best things about visiting grandma, apart from the piano, was the huge and precarious pile of sheet music. Much of the music was tattered and torn but there were some real gems if you were prepared to delve into the middle of the pile and I regularly worked my way through it from top to bottom. By this time it was probably twice as big as it is in the photo below. I very proudly now own some of this sheet music including one piece published in 1898 that probably belonged to my great-grandfather.

 

My mum in her early teens sitting at the piano with THAT pile of music. Family archive.

 

My paternal granddad was a music teacher and accomplished musician. He could pick up most instruments and play them. Amongst other things he could play the piano, church organ, violin and guitar. He bought his second piano in 1976. It was very expensive and modern and, with a walnut veneer, looked beautiful. It still does. It’s now sitting in my living room.

 

When I was five years old my granddad taught me how to play the piano. And, I assume, taught me how to read music. I have no recollection of a time when I couldn’t read music. Even now, after years of neglect, it makes perfect – well perhaps not exactly perfect – sense to me. Musical notation is just another language. Granddad sat me down at my parents’ piano and with a very simple book of music taught me how to play.

 

At the age of eight I started to have proper piano lessons with a lady from the village in which we lived. I remember she had a cat that sat in her hallway and stared balefully at me while I waited for her to finish a lesson with another pupil. I am not a cat person and that cat knew it! Over several years, until I was fourteen, I had weekly lessons with her. I sat my Associated Board of the Royal College of Music piano exams, Grades 1, 2, 4 and 5 (I skipped Grade 3) and passed them all (at least one with merit). I didn’t enjoy practising for exams. In fact, I didn’t enjoy practising full stop. I hated scales and arpeggios and generally disliked the pieces I had to learn. I passed Grade 5 when I was thirteen. I took Grade 5 Theory which would enable me to advance to higher grades but as I started studying for my GCSEs when I was fourteen I decided that studying for piano exams as well was just too much. I found a new piano teacher and worked on learning to play pieces of music that I actually liked. I learnt to play up to at least Grade 6 standard and played pieces (that I liked) from a Grade 6 syllabus for my GCSE music exam.

 

Until I was fifteen I was always my granddad’s favourite grand-daughter. When he was blessed with a second I became one of his favourite grand-daughters! I have no idea what he thought about my piano playing but I know that he wanted me to have his piano, especially as I wanted it so very much. I hope he might have thought at the very least my playing was passable.

 

The best photo I have of my granddad. Sadly I have no photos of him playing the piano. Family archive.

 

Over the years I have lamented always living in flats and houses that had no room for a piano. I told myself that I couldn’t limit my choice of abode to only those that could house such a large, weighty and noisy piece of furniture. Last year, however, when I was looking for a new home, I found that I just couldn’t allow myself to consider anywhere that didn’t have somewhere to put the piano. I spent ages standing at the top of the stairs of this house trying to imagine if a piano could be manoeuvred up them and into the living room on the first floor. After consulting my dad, I decided that it could.

 

After having moved in, unpacked and settled I set my dad the task of arranging for the piano to be moved from my grandma’s house in Essex. In hindsight I should definitely have chosen a different house … this was to be far harder than anyone anticipated, including the company that moved it!

 

It was collected without any problems and taken to a storage facility, due to be delivered to my house the following week. For some unknown reason and with little apology (which all seems arbitrary now) the delivery was cancelled. This company is pretty much the only specialist piano mover in the UK and are recommended by Steinway. I was very cross. My parents went on holiday and because I couldn’t be at home to take delivery on a weekday the piano sat in storage and I waited.

 

A few weeks later it was finally delivered. I received a call from my dad during my lunch break to say there was a problem. They’d got it to the top of the stairs but it wouldn’t go around the corner at the top and into the living room. They’d had all the measurements prior to agreeing to take the job but apparently “these things happen”. I started to envisage having to go house-hunting again and my heart sank. “It’s OK,” my dad said, “They have a plan.” And boy, did they ever!

 

The piano lived in my kitchen for about a week. I was surprised to find that despite having not been tuned for years it still sounded great and I half-heartedly played it a little. But, I didn’t want a piano in my lovely big kitchen. There wasn’t any practical space for it long-term and it’s not a good environment for a musical instrument.

 

The piano movers returned the following week with extra manpower and machinery. They removed the Juliette balcony on the back of my house, took the piano into the garden and then with specialist equipment drove it up two ramps and in through the full length windows. I kid you not! Luckily I was at work and I’m so glad I didn’t have to watch them. If and when I move house again, they will have to come back and reverse the process. No-one else will be able to get it out again due to the layout of the house and the sheer weight of the piano – it’s as heavy as a baby grand.

 

 

As you can see it made it and is now safely in situ. Its journey from Essex was extremely expensive but it is a lovely piano and I love it and play it all the time.

 

My piano safely ensconced in my living room. My photo.

 

I’ve always loved piano music but in recent years have been rediscovering old favourites and joyfully discovering new music I hadn’t heard before thanks to my admiration and, let’s be honest, adoration of James Rhodes. James is a man who cites music as the thing that saved his life. He is an inspiration both musically and in life. To have gone through what he has gone through and to come out the other side an accomplished, passionate and talented musician is staggering. I will never play like he does – I’m average at best and I lack the necessary dedication – but he inspires me to sit down at my piano and just play, for no other reason than the great pleasure it brings me. He’s also a talented writer. His heart-wrenching memoirs recently published both broke my heart and made me jump for joy. His boundless enthusiasm for music education, routing out the elitism in classical music and telling stories about the less than salubrious lives of the great composers are what make him so easy to love. Plus, watching him play, a privilege I’ve only had once so far, is just an utter joy. The piece below is one of my favourites in his repertoire and one I’m determined to learn one day.

 

 

You could say that my life has been one long love affair with the piano. We were separated for a while but my piano and I are at last together and long shall we remain so.

 

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