lundi 23 novembre 2009

Fabio, again

Osteospermums in the November wind and rain

like Kachaturian's Toccata in E flat minor

I don't know what has gotten into me. I am supposed to be finishing windows, and I am researching pianos. I need a new sofa, terribly desperately. I am buying a piano. Or, I think I am, anyway.

It started on Saturday, when I saw an email arrive from someone on my college alumnae book group. The subject line said, "Piano for sale". The message read, in part, "On the off-chance that you know someone who is looking to buy an upright, black lacquer piano (Holstein), mine is for sale. It is in excellent condition and has recently been tuned. Though I am sad to part with it, some of you may have noticed last time you were here that I have two pianos and I've decided it's time to recover some precious space in my apartment."

I emailed for the asking price. The reply came straight back: 800 euros.

My husband was standing only a few feet away. This was not the sort of impulse purchase one makes without consulting one's life partner, particularly one who doesn't really like piano music.

"Que penserais-tu si je voulais acheter un piano? Pas cher."

"Je n'aime ni les pianos ni la musique qu'ils font, mais si tu y tiens, c'est comme tu veux." That was nearly too easy. What have I been doing right recently?, I asked myself, making a mental note to think about it and do more of whatever I discovered. It might have to do with the riding lessons for his youngest daughter, and the warmer light in which this had cast me with her, and with him. It might also have to do with my advocating for his youngest son's social life. This has proven of benefit in the way that he sees me, and if the son sees me in a similarly more positive light, then guess what? The way to a father's heart is not, contrary to men in general, through his stomach, but his children, no matter what you might have thought of them yourself previously.

"How much did you pay to have it transported to your apartment?" I typed back. The reply came straight back again.

"Two strong guys with special straps for moving pianos got it up the stairs and a lady drove the truck. I paid 200 euros. They were quick, efficient and pleasant. I felt sorry for the guys (such back-breaking work)." We live a little farther than the few blocks that separated their apartment from the piano's first home near Montparnasse, but as she suggested, perhaps I can find someone out this way who can make it their last delivery of the day and get a bit of a break in the price, or pay more for the transportation than the piano's worth.

All of this got me thinking, though. I haven't played in years and years. Not, even, in decades and decades, and I am not that old. Not yet. I used to play every day, from when I was about 7 years old (I believe it was believed that you should be of an age to have learned to read books before endeavoring to read music and play the piano) until I was about 16 or 17. I stopped because I was paying for my own lessons from my babysitting and waitressing money, while saving for college, and I was also paying for dance classes with the local city ballet. I felt more confident on stage acting or dancing than I ever did playing the piano, even in front of a small audience of kindly disposed parents in my teacher's home, which scared me very much. Everyone said I played well. My teacher said I was ready to enter our state's piano competition, and she had an idea, which she thought was very wise, or possibly just shrewd: Mrs. Markarian had me start coming to my lesson right after a boy my age, Fabio.

Fabio was nothing like the model. His face was sober, saved by a crooked smile. He had what I knew was called olive skin, dark brows and straight, soft dark brown hair that fell over his brow and touched the tip of his long nose as he played. A real Italian. Not second or third generation. Maybe only here for a little while. He looked intelligent, and he also looked at me like he knew why I was there, sitting on the brocade beige and gold sofa in Mrs. Markarian's impeccable living room in their new home, on the drumlin from which I watched Santoro Bros. bulldoze the rounded top to build the new neighborhood of much fancier houses from the dining room window of our tiny open, single story ranch. Actually, the window was the dining room window merely by virtue of the fact that the table at which we ate our meals was behind it, right next to the front door and the floor to ceiling living room windows. I babysat for the children of our local symphony in their new home near my piano teacher's.

Each week, for a very few more weeks, I rang the bell and Mrs. Markarian showed me to her sofa. This is when Fabio smiled at me from the bench he was occupying, and I would soon take over, filled with diminished feelings of self-worth as a pianist, exactly the opposite of what I knew my teacher intended. Fabio would smile, bend his head to the keyboard, take a breath and then it would begin, for me. I listened to him move through Kachaturian's Toccata in E flat minor and Rachmanioff's Piano Concerto No. 2. He could bring levels of sound and emotion from the keyboard I was content to hear others produce, never once believing for a second I could do myself.

I realized in those weeks that I was a listener. That was enough. He could play Rachmaninoff with all the reaches and the passion like it flowed from his hands and arms and body. He would finish the movement and turn to smile at me. He is trying to encourage me to higher levels, to his level, too, and I cannot follow, I thought, sitting there paralyzed by what he had always just done. It stunned me, and I stopped playing. I didn't believe that I could do that, although my teacher did, and that's why she had me come right after him, so that I would know where I was going. Inside, I knew I didn't have the sense of musical theory that makes memorization unnecessary. You know the music. You don't commit it to memory. My young nephew in Versailles is this way; he knows the music, where it is in the piano and how to make it come forth.

When he was 3 or 4, he surprised his parents. They had put on a CD, and after it was finished, they heard the same music coming from the piano on the other side of the living room wall. It was their small son. He is gifted in drawing and painting, and in music. He also has an ego and a personality the size of Texas into which he will grow more comfortably as he gets older. I had to strive to learn what he knew and master it, like a stubborn dog, only I was the dog.

So, here I am, contemplating buying a friend's beginner level piano to see if I can really ask myself to learn again, since I can't even read music, not scarcely, anymore, and middle C is about all I can find on the keyboard. My sister-in-law, my young genius nephew's mother, thinks I should probably start out with a better piano, so that the sound will encourage me, and the touch will not hinder hands that have become like two garden forks on any keyboard that tempts me to reach out and touch its keys. I limit myself to pressing one down, perhaps, then, mimicking a trill, without applying any pressure. I wouldn't even be able to judge a piano's touch now that my hands have lost all their sensitivity to the keyboard, but it might be true that it would help me regain it.

I have begun to look for other sources, willing now to spend perhaps a little more money, or at least reassure myself that I couldn't possibly afford what I want and can settle for the Holstein, the manufacturer or which I cannot find online. I have found three others for sale. If I look at other pianos, perhaps I will take my nephew and ask him to try them for me.

Then, I will have to start my Czerny Exercises, from the beginning.

I hear these, and I hear Fabio, again. Especially the Kachaturian.

I want to be able to play that, while my animals nap and the wind rips through the trees and around the roof.

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