Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
(Poem by Langston Hughes, from the Dream Deferred Montage: Harlem)
I strolled through the mall the other day and paused when I passed the piano store.
I’ve passed it many times. Usually I toss a quick glance across the name brands facing the windows, and I move on without slowing my pace.
But Saturday was different.
They had a Steinway in the window.
It was used. A five foot grand in perfect condition, with ebony lacquer finish—the only finish to get, in my opinion.
I had nothing else pressing to do, so I slipped inside and made my way to the bench without a sound.
I touched the keys.
Pressed down on a few.
Played a few chords, then a few arpeggios.
But it was calling me to really play it.
Sitting down, my fingers fumbled over keys that long ago, I had spent so many years trying to know. For the first few minutes, I felt truly foolish sitting there, trying so hard to deserve the gorgeous sounds the keys made when pressed.
I took a deep breath.
All the memories came flooding back, in an instant. The memories of winning piano competitions, of auditioning for the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt, of sitting on the bench of Mrs. Hansen’s Steinway as she showed me her latest find at the music store—a piece called Toccata that I would instantly fall in love with…
It’s the first time I’ve actually sat at a Steinway in years, and I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is no piano like a Steinway. No piano feels the way a Steinway feels when you press the keys. No piano makes music the way a Steinway does. When I sit at a Steinway, I never want to stop playing, and the Steinway never wants me to stop, either.
I soon forgot I was sitting in a piano store in the mall. I became deaf to the voices mocking the huge price tag on this very piano as shoppers strolled by the window.
So quickly, I enveloped into my own little world, where only I and this perfect combination of black and white keys existed.
I played one of the only pieces I can still play—my own—a sort of half-piece I wrote many years ago, and never finished.
I can’t help but look at how many things I’ve started and never finished, and wonder where I may be standing if I actually had.
Those things don’t matter anymore. They’re in the past, and the past is all but forgotten.
I’m not a concert pianist as I once dreamed of being. I don’t even play anymore, except on a rare occasion here and there, where playing piano is akin to satisfying a need I can’t even describe—a need that absolutely nothing else will quench. Sometimes, playing is the only thing on my mind.
And sometimes, words fail. My emotions run too deep, and the only way to let them all out is through the keys.
It’s still my dream, though… one day, I want to own a Steinway.
Preferably a full concert grand. Nine long feet of piano, with its own room that I can close off and keep a constant perfect temperature so the piano stays as healthy as possible… and of course it would have to have its own room because of the cats.
Ideally, I’d like to buy it brand new. Order it to my customization and make trips to the factory to see it in its various stages.
It takes months to build a piano, you know.
I’d travel with it on the long journey home, and I’d celebrate its arrival with an in-home concert.
This is a big dream of mine, as a nine foot concert grand costs well over $100,000, and most folks don’t buy a Steinway brand new because of that.
But... you never know.
I may win the lottery someday. And if I do… a Steinway is most definitely on my list.
Until then, I’ll settle for stealing a few moments on a beautiful five footer at the piano store in the mall.
(If I close my eyes while I’m playing, I imagine myself on stage, about ready to give the performance of a lifetime…)