If You Can't Be With the Piano You Love… Love the Piano You're With!

Pianists are so misunderstood! :'(

As an itinerant accompanist and sometime starving-pianist-without-my-own-instrument, I’ve played a lot of different pianos. A few have been very nice; most have had various issues while still being adequate; and some can only be charitably described as piano-shaped objects.

My piano encounters last weekend in Pittsburgh fell into that middle category. Now that I think about it, the “various issues” descriptor encompasses a hilariously broad range of surprises and challenges I’ve gotten to deal with over the years. And now I have two more to add to my scrapbook! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Piano lock, shown on a white piano so you can actually see it, but -- white pianos, ew! :P

Piano lock, shown on a white piano so you can actually see it, but -- white pianos, ew! :P

The first obstacle your heroine was tasked to overcome was the dreaded Piano Lock. I mentioned in my previous post that I successfully deployed my charm and wily persuasion on the hotel staff so that I could gain access to a rehearsal piano. (Actually, the hotel staff were very nice and helpful with all aspects of our conference. They even let us turn the lobby into a full-on DFH hootenanny, into the wee hours of both Friday and Saturday nights!)

The sight of a locked piano always makes my heart sink. Oh, I completely get why they’re necessary, mind you. Overenthusiastic children, drunken louts, greasy fingers, overfull drinks — I understand the dangers. But pianos are made to be played, dammit! It’s such a shame to see them sitting there like large, expensive, useless furniture so much of the time.

I think it should be possible to get certified as a Bona Fide Pianistยฎ by some international piano organization, and the certification should entitle one to a universal master piano lock key. I would vow to use it wisely — honest! ๐Ÿ˜€

Our nice shiny rehearsal piano

Our nice shiny rehearsal piano

Anyway, the rehearsal piano was a grand, and it looked pretty nice. It was okay, but there was one key that stuck and only played if you pounded it like the devil. And it just happened to be the G an octave-and-a-half below middle C (G2 in scientific pitch notation), which was very inconvenient since all but one of the songs we were rehearsing were in the key of G! Figures! >:(

There was even more fun in store for me on Sunday morning, though. Click Mr. Readmore to see the secret toy surprise! ๐Ÿ™‚

The interfaith service at Netroots Nation was held in a conference room that suffered from a marked lack of anything resembling a piano — as most conference rooms do, I suppose. We had requested a rental piano through the conference organizers, so everything was going to be fine, right? Wellll… I had this nagging voice in the back of my head saying, “Do they know everything they need to know about arranging for a piano? Should I maybe stick my nose in their business to make sure it’s done right?” I wish I had listened to that voice. I will from now on.

This is what arrived at 8 am on Sunday morning:

Look what I found in my Cracker Jacks Box!

Look what I found in my Cracker Jacks Box!

It seems that the piano request ball got dropped somewhere along the way, and this was the last-minute solution. And I was grateful for it, truly. Except for one little thing…

The A/V tech who delivered this spectacular ax was a rock-band sound guru and recording studio denizen, straight from Central Casting — and I mean that in the nicest way. He had the shoulder-length layered hair, T-shirt and skinny jeans uniform, and he looked like he’d done some partyin’ in his day. He also knew exactly what he was doing and genuinely cared about setting me up right. He was a keyboard player himself, so he felt my pain.

He told me that the Casio pictured above had been borrowed from his boss’s daughter’s second-cousin’s ex-mother-in-law, or something like that, and had been picked up the night before. I was grateful for what I imagined to be several frantic phone calls and last-minute machinations undertaken for the sake of our modest enterprise.

I was also grateful that the thing came with a music stand — they don’t always, you know. (Yeah, I should have those hymns memorized by now, I know…)

When my techie friend was just about done setting me up, I asked, “so, where’s the sustain pedal?’


There was no sustain pedal in the carrying case.

For a brief moment, I wanted to cry. You see, piano without sustain pedal can sound very clunky, no matter how well you play. Fortunately, as an organist I’m used to creating my own legato, but that only carries you so far.

I didn’t want the folks who came to the service to think I was still drunk from the night before. Especially when I had been very careful to have only one drink. One! And I drank it really early! And I followed it with lots of water!

Tech guy did his best to problem-solve. “I could look around in my workshop downstairs and see if I have a proximity switch — then I might be able to build you a pedal… I’d need a soldering iron, though, hmm…”

My hero! ๐Ÿ˜€

Not because I really expected him to do any of that, of course. Just because it actually crossed his mind.

“Don’t worry about it, I can make this work,” I told him. “It seems like several people have already gone above and beyond to set this up, and I really appreciate that.”

“Well, I appreciate that you appreciate it,” he said. I’m sure he’s been on the unwarranted receiving end of any number of sensitive-musician temper tantrums in his time. I pride myself on the fact that homegirl don’t roll that way. ๐Ÿ™‚

“It could be worse,” I said. “I could be outside, and it could be raining!” (I didn’t completely make that up — I once took my digital piano to an outdoor gig where it was not exactly raining, but heavily misting. I was less than thrilled. Miraculously, my gear came through just fine.)

The service went beautifully, and no one seemed to doubt my sobriety. ๐Ÿ™‚


If You Can't Be With the Piano You Love… Love the Piano You're With! — 6 Comments

  1. I feel your pain MMN… I played some background music AND a special feature piece at my grandma’s funeral earlier this year. I’d heard there had been a hassle finding a keyboard in this small country town, and so I was grateful that people had gone out of their way to get the instrument. Actually, I think it was the same model you have pictured above, but an earlier model!!

    And of course, there was no pedal either… So, performing some beautiful, gentle, damper-pedal-heavy piano ballads without a pedal called for some inspired improvisation…

    (In the end everything went well – I was too distraught and sad to worry about the pain in my hands…. And in all honesty, being such an emotional day I’d completely forgotten about the lack of a pedal until your story triggered my memory!!)

  2. My condolences on the loss of your Grandma, Wade, and thank you for your comment.

    Perhaps they should make those keyboards with the sustain pedal cord soldered to them so they can’t be forgotten!

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