I know all about keys. After all, I have 88 of them. Unlike the keys that unlock your house, your car, your motorcycle, or maybe your bicycle, my keys unlock a world of sound. Some of those sounds are hard on my strings. Some of those sounds relax the listener. Some of those sounds are beautiful. And there is the one somebody who places his fingers on my keyboard and creates sounds that can only be described as otherworldly.
If you haven't already figured me out, I will reveal my identity to you. I am a piano and not just any piano. I am a Steinway concert grand with a long and storied history. Now, before you think you may have seen or heard me in a large concert hall or at a concert you attended, I will tell you that I have never been played in such a stellar venue.
The man who owns me is Joshua Fielding. It is unlikely you've ever heard of him, although he is well thought of in our community in the Northwest corner of Washington State. He's performed with the faculty chamber orchestra at times and in various local chamber music groups as well as giving solo recitals. Sometimes he gets a job out of town. But usually, he is teaching piano and music at the University as well as teaching local kids piano at his home.
This is why there are so many hands touching my keyboard. Josh, as I like to call him, is a fabulous musician and has a marvelous touch. But, some of the brats he teaches are not nearly as skilled. Too many of them simply do not know how to create beauty inside of me. They simply hit the keys and play whatever it is they've been assigned to play, hoping they hit enough correct notes.
A couple of high school students show promise. I like it when they sit on the piano stool and play their lessons on me. Sometimes Josh has a college student here at the house to play me, but he teaches most of them at the U. A couple of them show great promise and understand how to touch a piano key to make beautiful sounds.
He has some adults as students as well. They try hard to do well, but if you haven't bonded with a keyboard as a youth, chances are you will never really find the right touch.
My story isnt about those students, or about Josh, or about a faculty member coming here to play what they call the finest sounding instrument in the city. No, my story is about the one student who makes me come alive with the otherworldly way in which he touches the keyboard and makes music. There are few musicians in the world who can make that kind of sound, and those who are able to do it can only be described as geniuses. This story is about the best day he and I ever had together.
You will probably be surprised to learn what he is like. He has been coming here for lessons for six years now. He comes in wearing worn jeans, hand-me-down shirts, and ragged tennis shoes. He is bony and looks like he lives out on the street. He has unruly ginger hair and freckles on his cheeks and nose that one can tell are there even if they don't really stand out. During the time he's been coming, I've been able to learn all about his life in bits and pieces.
I know he has better clothes to wear because Josh has made sure of that. He wants him to be well-dressed when he plays at a recital. Josh knows the boy has an amazing, rare talent coming to him for lessons; free lessons, I might add.
The genius who understands my capabilities better than any other person, including Josh, is a twelve-year-old boy. His name is Austin Richards and he is, well, he is not only a genius, he is a kind, wonderful, cute boy (if a boy can be called cute) who can almost make me sing simply by sitting on the piano stool. He comes from a single-parent family that consists of his mother and James, his fifteen-year-old brother. James is much more interested in playing loud noise on an old electric guitar than he is in playing actual music. Austin plays Mozart while James plays punk rock. Dont get me wrong, James seems to be a good brother to Austin and a good boy. He's just not my type. His kind of music on the piano would make my strings sore.
Okay, so how did this raggedy boy from a poor family end up getting free lessons from the best piano teacher in this part of the state? you ask. Well, his father worked in a warehouse, but he was a frustrated musician. He always had music playing at home. He loved the classics and would play Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, you name it on his beat-up old stereo. The music of those geniuses didn't appeal much to young James, but they made an impression on Austin.
Austin's father was killed in an accident at work when Austin was four. While insurance helped the family survive, they were always on the edge of poverty. One day when Austin was six his mother took him and James to a young persons' concert at the college. Before and after the concert, the children could learn about instruments at the Instrument Petting Zoo. James wandered around but Austin was attracted to the sounds he heard on the piano that was on the stage. That piano wasn't me, but from what I know, it was a fine instrument.
Josh was helping the young children play a few notes rather than just pounding the keys. A couple of them did okay once they were shown what to do. I've heard this story more than once, because Josh loves to tell it, sometimes more than once, to anyone who will listen.
Josh helped Austin sit on the piano stool. Of course, he couldn't reach the pedals, but at that time in his life, it wasn't necessary. Josh says he let each child hit a key in his own way and then would demonstrate to them how to touch a key and make a nice sound. He watched the little boy reach for the keyboard and was ready to correct. Instead, this six-year-old boy played a series of notes that hed heard played often on his fathers stereo.
Josh recognized them immediately as being the opening to Bachs Rondo in C major from the "Well-Tempered Clavier". The rhythm may have been off, the emphasis a tad off, but those beautiful long fingers on the little boy played each note perfectly. As Josh puts it, he fell in love right then and there.
A few days later, Josh brought Austin and his mother here to the house. He was pleased to have his mothers support. She objected to getting charity as far as paying for lessons, but Josh told her that her son had a special talent and to not let him learn to use it would be criminal.
As they talked Austin walked over to me and stood at the keyboard. He hesitated. It was like he was afraid he would get in trouble if he touched me and played a note or two. Not having heard him play, I was certain that since he was just a little boy he would annoy me by playing loud, off-key chords.
Little children have always annoyed me for they are so not ready to touch my keyboard properly. Josh has always been good about keeping their dirty fingers from pounding on me, but for some reason, he ignored the fact that this little urchin was poised to bang on my keyboard.
What happened next must be told. When I saw his little hands with the slender fingers my strings almost vibrated. The fingers on most urchins are much stubbier. And when those fingers touched the keyboard and produced something totally unexpected, namely a few notes of Mozart, I reacted just like Josh had. I fell instantly in love.
That is the background telling you why today was a special day for me and the twelve-year-old boy who was sitting in front of me on the piano stool. When he sits there he makes me almost hum without his even touching me. It is the story of a boy who has so much talent it can't even be described and who works his little butt off (sorry for being a bit off-color, but its the best way to describe how he functions).
Today is just a wonderful day to be a grand piano. The piano tuner came to the house this morning and worked to bring my sound to near perfection. I love it when he works on me. It could be described as, hmm, well, I think orgasmic would best describe it.
And now, just after his school day is finished, my boy Austin, wearing the good clothes Josh purchased for him, is sitting down playing his warmups. You know, scales and all that good stuff. When he is ready, he will play two Chopin Etudes for Josh and for Max Shepherd, the director of the Bainbridge Summer Music Camp. They are sitting out in the drawing room. I am in the sunroom, which has a picture window of the water. If I was a player piano, just the view would make me want to play all the time.
Austin wants to go to the camp, but he must pass an audition not only to be admitted to the four-week camp but also to earn a scholarship. I know my young friend has been feeling pressured because he talks to me like he thinks I am alive, which I am when he sits in front of me on the piano stool.
"Josh says that if I go to the camp I will learn to play the piano with groups like a piano trio or maybe a chamber orchestra," Austin babbled as his fingers moved along the keyboard. He can even make scales sound striking. "I know I've played with Bridgett, but it would be so different and so awesome and so wonderful if I could go to camp and learn more. Josh says then I might be ready to play with the college orchestra, which would be awesome beyond awesome." Bridgett was also twelve and played the violin. She was a student of Mary Lassen, one of the string professors at the university.
Austin stopped playing. I could tell he was ready. He rose from the piano stool and went to the drawing room to tell Josh and Director Shepherd that he was ready to play. They were seated on two of the armchairs in the room. I can feel the quiet tension building up. The two men come into the sunroom and seat themselves to my right side.
I can see the determination of Austin's gorgeous smooth face. He has never been readier to play me. His hands hover over the keyboard and he begins to play Chopins Etude 3 in E Major.
The notes flowed from the piano. The prodigies fingers became one with my keyboard, with me who loved that wonderful boy has much as he loved me. The room fills with music. The looks on the faces of the two men in the room told me everything. Josh's face was filled with pride and the Director's face was filled with amazement.
Even though Austin would play Etude 5, there was no need for him to do so. His flawless playing, his magic touch, enchanted Josh and Director Shepherd while at the same time his playing makes this my greatest day ever as every part of me purrs with each touch of his talented young fingers.
A piano has 88 keys that can do nothing by themselves, but anyone can use them. Some use them to produce just noise, some produce music, some produce great music, and a few produce incredible music. And if a piano is fortunate, somebody can sit at the keyboard and produce magic. I am one of those fortunate pianos. Twelve-year-old Austin Richards cam can place his beautiful, slender fingers on the proper keys, causing the hammers to strike my strings so that they fill the room with a magic sound that only a genius can create. When he plays, my day is enchanted.