the piano chronicles, possibly in multiple parts

September 27, 2011 |  Category:   home life

It all started when my mom planted the idea in my head that we should get a piano and that maybe we should take the one I grew up playing, although it has gotten out of tune. Mia has expressed interest in piano lessons and likes to tinker around with it whenever we are at my mom’s. Mark’s even taught her how to play a melody or three with her right hand and surprisingly, she’ll remember how to play it even if a month goes by. Maybe the kids have skills! And I do have to admit that for whatever reason out of the blue, I’ve been sort of wanting to play again, but it’s always been rather difficult to imagine a piano in our apartment. Our downstairs neighbor has one and you can hear her play – not loudly, but you can definitely hear it. But more importantly, where would we put it?!

Our apartment is a decent size for NYC. 1350 square feet might not sound like much space for 4 people to anyone outside a big city, but for the most part, it works for us. But even if you strive to live minimally – and I do, you can still manage to fill it with all sorts of crap, particularly if you have kids. And a piano? Requires some serious space planning.

Last Tuesday my mom called me about a piano that was for sale from a friend that she was going to check out. By Thursday we were taking books off shelves, moving things around and measuring walls to see where we’d put a piano and by Friday, it was in our apartment. My mom works fast (I think she couldn’t bear the thought of her half-Asian grandchildren not taking piano lessons, haha). The morning the piano was being delivered it occurred to me that I had accepted it without seeing it first. What if it didn’t fit with anything else in our apartment? What if it had gargoyles carved in the wood on the sides? Or…what if it was glossy white?!? I hadn’t really asked. I mean a piano is just…a piano.

Soooo…the one that was delivered on Friday isn’t exactly what I had hoped. It doesn’t have gargoyles, but it does have scroll-y things and French legs (Mia came in from school and said, “oooooh, it’s SO fancy). I sort of fretted about how big it was and how loud it was and how not minimal it was, plus it threw my whole search for a new dining room table for a loop because the piano sits behind the dining area. It’s definitely a tight fit, space wise. But then we put a few of our things on it and put the books back on the shelf and it’s actually fine now that it’s integrated with everything else (yeah, alright, I still don’t love the scrolly legs).

What is it about a piano that makes a home seem more like home? Claudine likes to sit next to me when I play. I stopped playing 15 years ago because I developed bad carpal tunnel from playing many hours a day when Mark and I were music majors at school. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I hadn’t lost my ability to sight-read music, although it’s happening more slowly. I’m not saying I’m good and I didn’t expect to be, not after 15 years, but I was just glad that I didn’t forget everything. Part of the deal with getting a piano is that I’d teach the girls myself so we can save money instead of hiring a teacher for another instrument like the violin. Sounds like a smart idea, but oh my, I see lessons in patience in my future. Let’s see how long it lasts!

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  • jen September 27, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    I just moved my aunt’s old spinet into our relatively tiny, weirdly designed rental in LA. One thing you forget when you don’t have a piano is that its the best toy for kids. Both of my girls are loving having it. The older one stating “I have to practice twice a day” (for 3 minutes each). It is much louder than I thought and I had a moment where I thought “oh, a keyboard and headphones might have been smarter” when the banging started and we’ve squished a few fingers in the lid of the bench. But this was actually cheaper and there’s something about actual strings that is lovely. Good luck!

  • Jill September 27, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Oooh, I’m so excited for you guys! And definitely jealous. Congrats on the new acquisition!

    This may be strange and all-too-telling, but I have this fear that if I ever have kids and teach them to play, they’ll only want to play FΓΌr Elise for the rest of eternity, since it was the bane of my piano-playing existence growing up. Or Yanni.

  • Teresa September 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    We got a piano right after we moved here…after many years of only having a keyboard…and I’m Scout’s ‘teacher’ so far…we had actually started his lessons on the keyboard with the John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course Part 1 and we’ve kept with that course…My first teacher (also my Mom) used the old John Thompson red books…I keep thinking when he progresses to a certain level we’ll get him a ‘proper teacher’…we’ll see…right now he’s really into figuring out popular songs for himself…

    Very best wishes with your lessons…

  • Elspeth @ paperarmour September 27, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    I’m so jealous. I grew up with a piano and took years of lessons. My husband and I were just talking this weekend about how much we’re looking forward to being able to have a piano in our home.

    Have fun!

  • joyjoy September 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    This made me laugh because I actually *tried* to take my childhood piano from my parents, and my mom wouldn’t let me have it! I’m the only one in the family who plays piano, too, so it really makes no sense except for the fact that I think, to her, the house feels more complete with the piano in it even though it sits unused.

    I started out with (and still own!) the old, red John Thompson’s Teaching Little Fingers to Play. I do still pull that out from time to time at my parents’ house just for fun. πŸ˜›

  • gia September 27, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Oh boy! That is so great! My creative outlet is drawing and painting. It is so hard to push myself to actually do it. But it feels so good (and challenging) to let your spirit speak louder than your mind.

  • Jenna September 27, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    @teresa @joyjoy I was pleasantly surprised to see that the piano bench was filled with books like the John Thompson’s. Also the korean piano books of classics, as well as finger exercise books like Hanon that I grew up learning from. I don’t have to buy them, yay!

  • red September 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Ok, I am dying to see what the “fancy” piano legs look like!

  • oilandgarlic September 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I, too, would like to see the fancy piano legs!

  • dee September 27, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Congratulations! I had my daughter learn cello, instead of getting a piano. (Probably a good thing since we have moved several times.) But there is nothing quite like having a piano, even for those of us who are just tinkerers.

  • Claire September 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Yes. There’s nothing that quite makes a home like a piano, esp when you’ve grown up with one around. I got a keyboard that looks like a baby grand, which is so utterly cheesy, but that’s all I could fit into my tiny BK apt.

  • Kitty September 27, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Piano!! I’ve wanted to learn since I was younger. Now I’m thinking maybe it’ll be a retirement thing that I can look forward to.

    Hmm scrolly-y legs…yes would love to get a glimpse!

  • Danielle September 28, 2011 at 1:07 am

    The piano lessons my mom paid for during my childhood were one of the most cherished and important things she could have provided for me. Granted, it took many years for me to appreciate (what 10 year old wants to be pestered about practicing every day?), but I’ll never be able to thank her or my piano teacher enough. πŸ™‚ Hope they enjoy tickling the ivories!

  • Anna Emilia September 28, 2011 at 3:23 am

    Happy melodies to you all!

  • Tara September 28, 2011 at 8:56 am

    That is wonderful that your mom bought your girls a piano!! What a great grandmom!! They will play beautifully I am sure. Good luck teaching:)

  • Clara September 28, 2011 at 10:30 am

    I had to laugh reading about how your mom just took it upon herself to get that piano. When I was in college my mom decided I needed an ENTIRE china set, including a turkey platters, because naturally I would be roasting a turkey for my friends.

    I started playing the piano when I was 6 and took lessons for 13 years! We have a much smaller Brooklyn apartment, but I’d love to have one again some day.

  • Sora September 28, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Thank you for your post. We are in the same boat. The pressure is on b/c we have a new neighbor who just happens to be a piano teacher! My mom is snooping around her townhome complex seeing if anyone is selling their piano. Too funny.

  • Cecilia Madden September 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Oh my goodness. You’re so smart for encouraging them to learn an instrument you know. If you find a good patience instructor, let me know πŸ˜‰

    My mother-in-law has a baby grand that has done nothing but gather dust for decades, and she’s got it in her heart that we will someday take it off her hands when we eventually buy a house. Dare to dream, right!

  • Laura September 28, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Lucky you. I’m trying to avoid buying one until my daughter has convinced me she really will keep playing, her first exam is coming up, but like you we don t have the space!

  • Anna September 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    So glad there’s a piano at your home! I took a five year break myself and a year ago restarted playing and just had a solo recital for friends and family this year. You’d be surprised how much of it comes back even after a long hiatus.

  • RebeccaNYC September 28, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    this is a wonderful thing for your kids, and for you too! when I was growing up my parents could afford neither a piano nor a teacher, although I was musically inclined. So now, I am a full time opera singer with minimal piano skills. I took piano in college, but by then I think it was too late. Of course I can read music…but it was a hard road there for awhile. My mom still apologizes for that.

  • joya September 28, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Very similar thing going on here! I also played from the age of 3 until 18 (must be the 1/2 asian thing for me) and my mom said because I played the longest out of my four sisters I would get the baby grand piano whenever they downsized. Well that happened a few years ago, and we went from it fitting nicely in our Cincinnati home to squeezed into a 1900 tiny vintage rowhouse living room in Chicago. well we just moved again into a small 1920’s colonial and I’m still trying to figure out how to decorate around it.

    I am also determined to teach my boys myself (I’ll need the patience skills as well) to save on money for a teacher.

    I’ll be interested to hear how it goes for you!


  • Jennifer | Whisk It Good September 29, 2011 at 10:19 am

    I grew up playing a Baldwin, which my brother had until he recently sold his house in Austin with all its contents (including the piano!). I’m sad. My mom was a concert violinist and pianist and taught us four kids from age 3 on that piano (her mother gave 90 piano lessons a week!). Sometimes I really miss playing, but we don’t have the space for one. I’d like my son to learn though, so we’re thinking maybe a keyboard (which is clearly not the same thing). So, needless to say, I’m quite jealous — scrolly legs and all!

  • Jenna September 29, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Ha, everyone curious about the piano legs. It is kind of, but not exactly like this

  • K and A Alesandrini October 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    I hope you really enjoy having a piano again for the times you want to play. I’ve kept one around for ages now even though I only play on and off. Often, I’ve wished I’d learned a smaller instrument so that when I suddenly felt like playing I could pull something out of a closet instead of always having a piano hulking in the dining room, but ah well. Good luck with the teaching.

  • Colleen / Inspired to Share October 7, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    I’m really impressed that you live in 1350 square feet. I want to live in a small space even when we have kids. I think it weaves a tight family and is efficient. Hope to follow after your family, even if it’s a little crazy! : )

  • violin learner taught by my korean mom October 23, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    oh, please spring for a music student who might do it for cheap! perhaps you could pay them in cookies? learning an instrument from a parent was quite horrifying for me as a kid… and I quit as soon as I could (as soon as my last concert was done sr year of hs). music is great, but not intra-family lessons.

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