Saying goodbye to a Steinway Grand by finding the next owner and avoiding the fate of the worst kind….
When we first received the Steinway, it took up a big corner of the house in Bussum. I was afraid it was too close to the fire place. Robert joked, “Well that’s a lot of wood to burn, for a long time.”
As I scout the market for its next owner, I can’t help thinking that once again I am saying goodbye to a friend via cyberspace. I am unable to play it, caress it, or hear it. I am on the other side of the world, answering e-mail enquiries and writing to those who might have a hand in its future.
A friend sent me 4 consecutive e-mails of the following video from the New York Times. He really wanted to make sure I got it, I guess. It’s not a nice way to say goodbye, and I surely hope it will not be the death of mine.
Last summer, a soprano told me about some modern love songs she wanted to sing for Valentine’s Day. While we never managed to get together to try them out, the conversation got me thinking about doing my own concert on Valentine’s Day.
As a young teenager, I lived on Barbara Cartland historical romance novels and Harlequin romances. In reading books on the psychology of love, I tried to form a taxonomy of the different kinds of love and the various stages of love. Ultimately I looked forward to experiencing love as I journeyed to adulthood.
I learned over the years that one has to experience it to be able to express it. I play Chopin’s nocturnes and Brahms’ intermezzi differently now than as a young college student. Similarly what I had read in theory so many decades ago has now been put into practice though not intentionally.
We now know a lot more about the brain and its chemistry when it comes to experiencing romantic love. Music comes to life when put into context. The shared experience of listening to a particular love song becomes symbolic of that relationship. As I search through my collection of love songs for Valentine’s Day, I travel down a memory lane of music I love.
The elderly audience on Tuesday 14th February 2012 have their own memories. I cannot possibly evoke significant moments without knowing the love songs of their life stories.
After a Saturday afternoon of trying out different pieces from my collection in Maui (the rest is in the Netherlands), I’ve narrowed it down to the following list. Next, I need to order them according to mood and story line. The classical works and love arias from opera will set the mood. Towards the end, I will ask the audience to join in singing the more popular songs.
Salut D’amour op. 12: Elgar
Canon in D: Pachelbel (George Winston arrangement)
Thais Meditation**: Massenet
Omio Babbino Caro (Gianni Schicchi): Puccini
E Incevan le stelle (Tosca): Puccini
Annie’s Song**: John Denver
Song Bird**: Christine McVie
I Left My Heart in San Francisco: Douglas Cross & George Cory
Besame Mucho: Consuelo Velazquez & Sunny Skylar
Can You Feel the Love Tonight: Elton John
The Moon Represents My Heart (Chinese)**
Sukiyaki: Rokusuki Ei and Hachidai Nakamura
Can’t Help Falling in Love: George David Weiss, Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore
What a Wonderful World : George David Weiss, Bob Thiele
What a Wonderful World** Iz version
Let It Be: John Lennon, Paul McCartney
Aloha Means I Love You**: Robert L. Lukens, John Avery Noble
After putting this program together, I learned of the sudden death of Whitney Houston the same evening. As a tribute to her, I will include “I Will Always Love You” and “The Greatest Love of All.” This means removing a few pieces to ensure the concert lasts no longer than 1 hour — thus the asterisk ** marked here.
Playing music for senior citizens on an electric keyboard is not the same as on an acoustic piano. Live music has positive effects on alzheimer sufferers. What does it take to get a real piano into an elderly home like Roselani Place in Kahului, Maui?
For Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving Day, I brought my 70-something mom to Roselani Place to celebrate with the residents. I played the electric keyboard while the residents and their guests enjoyed their chef-cooked luncheons. Music has an amazing way of uniting people when they recognize tunes they know and start humming. Some came up and thanked me afterwards.
I love looking for music to play for an audience. For both luncheons, I had borrowed several volumes of sheet music from the local library: music from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s. Because of the diverse ethnicities of the residents, I even included the popular “Sakura” and Hawaiian songs. I wanted to play them the way I prepared them on the grand piano I practised on.
Unfortunately an electric keyboard, despite its bells and whistles, is not an acoustic piano.
Once the restaurant was filled, the people in the back could not hear me. I had cranked up the volume to the max. I tried fiddling with the instrument selection. A harpsichord sound was surprisingly louder than the “grand piano” selection. I tried synchronising a drum beat to it. I could not increase the overall volume.
When I first visited Roselani earlier this year, I was eager to try the upright piano in the reception area. I quickly learned that the entire treble half was long gone. Unstoppable, I moved to the bass half and continued to play. Somebody switched off the piped recorded music. The residents started to listen as if finally awakened from their reveries. The piano was different from the constant music coming out of overhead speakers. There was a person at the piano. Knowing that they were listening changed the way I played. It was no longer practice but performance.
I know for a fact that live foreground music is much more effective than recorded background music. In my research into programming live music for the elderly, I learned that live music is therapeutic for alzheimer sufferers. Just google “alzheimer music” and see the evidence. I have seen a passive audience come alive when they see and hear a live concert. Even if they cannot speak or recognise me, I can see life in their eyes and feel the firmness of their hand grip. In years of playing in such homes throughout the Netherlands, my piano guitar duo has revised our repertoire to choose what works best. The staff and volunteers at such homes know that the choice of music directly affects how well the residents sleep at night.
What will it take to move a working piano to Roselani Place?
Fundraising to get a piano in there?
Roselani Place is a 501c organization. This is a form of savings for anyone who is leaving the island but is stranded by a piano they can’t sell should consider donating to Roselani. They can deduct the value of their piano against their income tax. It’s a last resort, unless they are prepared to pay for storage or leave it with a tuner or music store for sale on consignment.
I suppose one way to find out the attractiveness of my proposal is to monitor Craigslist. How long does it take before a piano gets sold? Or perhaps I should ask a piano tuner or technician.
Anne Ku experiments with a variety of music to suit the modern listener at a candlelight dinner. From favourite classics to love songs to movie themes, she improvises as she sightreads sheet music in Maui, Hawaii.
It’s been 8 years since I last played background music as a solo pianist. When I was resident pianist at a London hotel, I blogged about the interesting conversations I had with hotel guests and what I thought I should play for the 3 hours in each of the 4 evenings per week. I came to the conclusion that a variety of music was a sure way to please everybody. I also recalled that background music required a balance of the familiar and the unfamiliar, including the familiar played in an unfamiliar way.
At times it did not feel like background music, but rather foreground music. When the people gathered around me and got involved in what I was playing, I felt like anything but a hotel pianist.
Tonight’s 2 hours at the white grand piano reminded me of those winter months in London when I sight read and improvised new selections every evening. Eight winters later in tropical Hawaii, I was not in a hotel but in an upscale holiday home where the residents could stay for long periods and get chef-prepared meals several times a day. There’s a swimming pool outside. It’s in the touristy area of Kihei on the south west side of Maui.
Tonight’s selections (in order of play):
Que Sera, Sera
Tango in D by Albeniz
Arabesque no. 1 by Debussy
Traumerei by Schumann
Nessun Dorma from Turandot by Puccini
Pachelbel’s Canon in D – jazzy version
Tea for Two
Main theme from “Forrest Gump”
My Heart Will Go On, theme from “Titanic”
The Pink Panther
Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
Nessun Dorma (request)
Theme from “Terms of Endearment”
Theme from “On Golden Pond”
Clair de Lune by Debussy
Yesterday (2007) – arranged by Anne Ku for ensemble
Theme from “Jurassic Park”
Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman from “Don Juan DeMarco”
Over the Rainbow — my arrangement of the popular Iz reggae version
Dinner ended half-way through “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” As the guests entered the hall way and sat down, I was suddenly aware that I was no longer playing background music. The first request was “Nessun Dorma.” I had already played it earlier, but the gentleman wanted to hear it again.
“Will you come back?” several guests asked when I ended.
The pianist laments for her piano left behind. There are pianos to borrow, to rent, and to buy. But she longs for the piano she cannot have, not to perform but to practise with no one listening.
How long can I stand not having a piano to practise on?
There’s an upright piano (a spinet) at the community centre nearby where I can practise in the afternoons. The first time I tried the piano, it was out of tune. After it got tuned for our short concert, I tried it again. Several groups were playing mah jong. They didn’t mind and even applauded after Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, the only sheet music I had that was remotely Christmassy. The mah jong players invited me to snack with them during the break and gave me Haiku tangerines. “Come back next week,” they said when I was leaving.
A kind lady offered her Steinway grand in south Kihei. It’s at least a half-hour drive to her beautiful home. My sister told me of another place in Kihei with a grand piano that I’ve yet to visit.
There are many churches nearby. I’m sure there are pianos I could use, but first I need to enquire.
Still, I get tempted when I see a piano for sale. Perhaps I just want a piano in my home and not anywhere else.
On Craigslist I spotted pianos for sale: an upright piano — a medium-brown-coloured spinet left behind when the house got sold. The new owners initially advertised it for $300 two weeks ago. Now they changed it to $250 or better offer. I imagine it sitting in the corner in my living room. I would wake up and play it to my heart’s content.
The piano reminds me of the Yamaha console my father had bought brand new for our family. We all learned to play the piano. My mother told me that she took lessons with us because we were the first and only students of our Japanese piano teacher (at that time.) She stopped when our teacher recruited other students. Sadly my father sold the piano after we had grown up and left home. I guess I’m still pining for that piano.
Buying a piano is not a trivial thing. In my article “Buying a piano: a decision maker’s guide,” I advised buyers to get a professional assessment (by a piano technician) before deciding. I did not add that there are costs of moving, tuning, advertising and selling when one leaves.
Why buy a piano if you can rent one? In Houston, I rented a Baldwin upright on a monthly basis for 14 months. I did not have to find a mover or a tuner. One phone call and it arrived. Another phone call and it left. What a joy it was to play! What a joy it was to compose!
What I really want is not a piano in my home but access to a piano in a room (nearby) where I can practise without an audience. When I’m aware of the presence of someone else listening, my playing becomes a performance. What I really miss is being able to practise on a good instrument close by, whenever I want, and for as long as I want.
The guitarist has no longing as such. His guitar is always a heart beat away, anywhere he goes.
It’s customary to wish a successful performance by saying “break a leg!”
This does not literally mean that you wish the performers to break their legs but that you wish them to perform so well that it wouldn’t be surprising if they actually broke their legs. One hour before the “cinco de mayo” concert in central La Coruña, our second concert in this coastal city and our third in Spain, I witnessed a most dramatic event.
It’s customary to wish a successful performance by saying “break a leg!”
This does not literally mean that you wish the performers to break their legs but that you wish them to perform so well that it wouldn’t be surprising if they actually broke their legs.
One hour before the “cinco de mayo” concert in central La Coruña, our second concert in this coastal city and our third in Spain, I witnessed a most dramatic event.
The concierge led us to the grand piano behind the curtains. He pulled while the guitarist pushed at the piano. In one “swoosh!” they rolled the piano on its three feet to centre stage but not without some commotion. As a bystander, I saw the covered wooden stage dip under the weight of the 6 ft grand piano.
One more pull and push — the leg towards the treble end of the piano folded under, like the way a person trips on his own foot.
People stopped talking.
A vision flashed before me: that the other two legs would bend and break, causing the piano to crash land on my lap as I play it. I quickly dismissed the thought and scurried to get a chair.
Nothing fitted between the chair and the piano except for empty space. Psychologically the piano looked better with the chair than without anything underneath as its broken leg was now lying on the floor, a useless piece of wood. The concierge went to call for help.
I retreated to the dressing room trying to recover from shock. There was a electric keyboard — maybe that’s the back-up.
Meanwhile, the guitarist sat alone on stage practising his runs. Later on, he confessed that he was practising solo pieces in case he’d have to play alone.
Ten minutes before the concert was to begin at 20:00, I heard the tinkling of the ivories. Opening the doors of the dressing room to the main hall, I looked towards the stage and saw a makeshift assembly.
Was the piano tuner not available? Or did he come without proper tools? Would it be strong enough to withstand my fortes? My fortessimos? My mind was filled with questions.
In other words, would I be safe?
A man came towards me and shook my hands. Introducing himself as the director of the centre, he said that it was a new piano, only 2 years old. This shouldn’t have happened.
Meanwhile, we were eager to warm up before the people started streaming in. Already I saw a familiar face in the audience. It was Miguel, an enthusiastic pianist I met in Utrecht and by coincidence ran into the other day at the beach. [another story]
“Christina asked me to translate for you,” he greeted me. “She was bitten by a fish.”
“Would you take a video of us while we rehearse the encore?” I asked. “It’s just a mobile telephone.”
Afterwards, Miguel offered to take photos for us.
Since then, the concert is no longer the “cinco de mayo” but the “break the piano leg” or “break a leg” concert!