St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Piano Blues

Mom's old Hobart M Cable Piano
Russ is using it to stack things as he works on painting, sorting and working in the house. He hasn't looked in the bench yet--probably full of music from 3 generations of Hanson's lessons.  He is thinking about removing the core and turning it into an entertainment center or else a roll-top type desk unless it is rescued by one of Grandma's grandchildren. 

Mom accumulated many things among them an upright Hobart M Cable piano taking up a lot of room in the living room that could be better used by putting a few of my old computers and printers.   She didn't play the piano, but kept it in case one of the grandchildren or great grandchildren wanted a piano for learning. She used it as a place to put the really important photos-- the 8x10 hand colored HS graduation photos of Marvin, Russell, Everett and Byron (our hair slicked back with the Brylcreem sheen), and smaller photos of the next generation, as well as many nicknacks.

My brothers and spouses are helping sort the items Mom had that need a new home.  The piano is one of those, as Margo and I don't play at all.  Marvin and Everett wouldn't take it either (Ev has Grandma's piano in the garage providing a refuge for mice).  Connie already has one too.  

In the olden days (pre-1960), having a piano or organ in the parlor was a status symbol.  In the 1890s, the assessor had a column to check off if the home had an organ as it was a sign the family had become prosperous (the pump organ is upstairs --and its disposition is still pending).  In the pre-radio and TV days, people actually did gather around the piano for entertainment and enjoyment.  

That Marv, Ev and I have no need for a piano is not altogether Mom's fault.  We each had piano lessons for varying periods of time --a year or two for Marv and me and several years for Ev.  Marv claims he stopped after a disaster at his annual piano recital, when he flubbed his complicated two-handed memorized piece in front of the St Croix Falls parent crowd, ruthless critics.  I did my two-finger piece (The Snake Dance) wonderfully well, and was well on the way to becoming a piano prodigy, but with Marv balking, it wasn't worth hauling just me to lessons each week.  

Brother Everett, started a few years later and moved along quite well.  He rather liked the piano, and at age 12, had visions of being the life of the party strolling over to the piano and breaking into catchy boogie-woogie number with the crowd all jitter-bugging around the room. 

Trouble was, that when his piano teacher offered him the choice of the boogie-woogie book or the classical music book, Mom overruled his BW choice. His interest dwindled immediately when faced with Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms vs Jerry Lee Lewis.  Mom worried that boogie-woogie would lead her quiet and serious son directly to smoke-filled taverns and dens of iniquity.  Sadly, he revolted and thus another piano virtuoso in the family was thwarted.    I think by the time that Byron came along, Mom had given up.  I really can't remember if he had lessons or not, as I was too busy with my tenor sax playing on the Gambling River Boats plying the upper St Croix running on moonshine. 

When our son, Scott's arm was twisted to take piano lessons, the piano moved to Rochester, MN for a couple of years until his mother forced him into church music vs jazz.  Mothers are too often the bane of musicians.  I wonder what Mrs Zimmerman said to Bobby up there in northern MN? 

A trip back to Mom's and then the piano went to brother Marv's place where his daughter Sarah used it for lessons at Cushing.  Something must have happened with her too, as she doesn't sweep in and sit down at the piano and impress us all.   

Brother Byron and wife Connie's oldest daughter, Amanda, took many years of piano lessons--they had their own piano at Byron's home.   Amanda probably advanced the most of any of the family with lessons and playing, but has been neglecting her practice for many years now.  Connie tells me that Eddie and Libby (Amanda's kids and Connie's grandchildren) sit down and plunk away at grandma Connie's piano when they visit.   With this desperate need for a piano, I have Marv and Ev lined up in early January to push the piano (on its own casters) out the door, down the ramp onto the trailer and leave it on Amanda's deck some time when we are sure they are all at work.  Sort of a gift in memory of Grandma and to encourage her musical talents as well as to give Edward and Elizabeth their chance to see if they are prodigies too.  

I looked on E-bay and Craigslist and found upright antique pianos in decent shape going for prices ranging for $0 up to $500.  This one looks pretty good; plays fine except for a need of tuning and comes with 300 nicknacks and 35 photos and two Christmas presents. 

Back in the days when we four boys were still at home and expecting Santa to bring Christmas gifts, Mom had a real problem in hiding the presents well enough so we didn't discover them.  She didn't just put them under the Christmas tree, as then we would have known that Santa Claus hadn't come down the chimney, and out of the wood stove door to deliver our presents (of course by the time we were old enough to leave home, we realized that Santa just told our parents what we wanted, and didn't actually bring gifts himself most of the time unless we were very very good).  

I always borrowed one of grandpa's old knee high wool socks that had been stretched out hugely--the kind with the red toes and heels made of Itchy Sheep Wool  by Grandma herself and darned by great grandma with red and green yarn so heavily the sock was hard to find under the darning.  I was optimistic that my presents were going to be huge!  

Well, one year in March, our prissy neighbor girl S____ came to visit.  She was everything we boys were not--well behaved at home and away from home, a polite and orderly student, and always said please and thankyou and if she was tempted to wave just one finger at us, it was a clean one with the cuticle showing a full half-moon.  She sat down at the piano to show off her 6 years of dedicated practice and began a real Christian song, but the piano just thudded and clunked.  

Marv cleaned off the 37 photos and trinkets and tilted up the hinged top, expecting to see a cat had moved in or something worse.  He reached in and brought out 4 gaily wrapped Christmas presents, one with each of our names on it.   Mom, it turned out, had hidden some presents down in the bowels of the piano, knowing that we would never sit and play the piano and discover them, and had forgotten them at Christmas.   It was hard for her to explain why Santa had been so strange in his delivery method, but what the heck, a guy can never have too many socks and underwear. 

Although we hope to pass along the piano to someone who values it, I have been soft-pedaling the efforts so far.  However, when it comes to the fancy old pump-organ, we will pull out all the stops.   

There are times when I still dream about sitting on the bench and amazing strangers with my piano skills--maybe at the public piano in the basement of the Mayo Building.  It is a shame that things like playing the piano take so much work.  Maybe Professor Harold Hill's think system could work...  

And for those of you who want to hear The Snake Dance almost as good as I rattled it off in front of the huge audience in SCF back in 1954, check out this link:  Snake Dance  

Brother Marv had troubles with "Riding on a Mule" which you can see done successfully at Riding on a Mule  

And here is what Brother Everett would have played like if his mother had not pushed him into classical songs:  
Piano Boogie Woogie