Friday, May 18, 2012
Adventures in Piano Land
I had the most inspiring music teacher when I was in elementary school. We parted ways after I finished sixth grade, because she married an Asian history scholar who built harpsichords, and left Massachusetts for Ohio. Pat and I were out of touch for a decade or so, but I happened to find her phone number in a listing in the 1985 Boston Early Music Festival catalog, and called her to let her know that I was moving to the midwest. It happened that she and her husband were just about to leave Ohio (perhaps even that week) and start a piano museum in the small town of Ashburnham, Massachusetts.
Michael and I went to Ashburnham (which is a 75-minute drive from Boston) on Tuesday, and Pat and I saw one another face-to-face for the first time in more than 40 years. Aside from the obvious signs of age, neither of us had really changed; and when Pat demonstrated the awe-inspiring array of pianos in their collection (all of them restored and in perfect playing condition), I felt like I was floating around in some kind of timeless abyss involving my journey from childhood to adulthood, and the piano's journey from the kind of instrument it was during Mozart's time to an instrument we might think of as a grandfather to the "standard" 20th century piano. (To add boggle to nostalgia, one of the most recent pianos in the collection just happens to be the same model Mason & Hamlin piano that was in my high school music room--getting its "heart and soul" battered about by thousands of adolescents through the years.)
If you live anywhere around the Boston area, I would seriously suggest planning a day trip to visit the Historical Piano Study Center. Hearing Beethoven (or playing Beethoven) on the same kind of piano Beethoven used, hearing Brahms (or playing Brahms) on the same kind of piano that Brahms used, and hearing (or playing) Debussy on the same kind of German (!) piano that Debussy used, changes everything.
Click here to see a photo listing of the pianos in their collection as well as the ones waiting "in the wings" (ugh Flügel--I couldn't help it).