I love pianos for what they offer: an enormous range of sound, the physicality of playing the keys, contact with some of the great works of music. Pianos also provide stories of their own. Because they last a long time, pianos go through a lot. Several years ago, I wrote a story about this for The Oregonian called "The Secret Lives of Pianos." Photographer Torsten Kjellstrand and I found a bunch of pianos that had great stories to tell.
We found a piano allegedly owned by Hitler's piano tuner. The piano Elliott Smith used to record several songs. A piano in the state penitentiary. A grand old Steinway presiding over Pioneer Courthouse in downtown Portland.
I thought of that story as I was preparing my next class on The Piano, scheduled for April 30. Here's how the story started:
They sit in courthouses and prisons. In Dumpsters and concert halls. In barns and family rooms.
Some pianos are sleek and supple, purebreds born for power and speed. Others squat in corners, shoved aside like old couches, their voices dull and out of tune.
Where have they been? In how many living rooms, bars or church basements? What have they seen? How many births, deaths, divorces, anniversaries? How many times have they played "Freres Jacques" or "Amazing Grace"?
Mystery -- along with 7,500 moving parts -- lies at the heart of a piano. Each one has a tale to tell, and we're going to share some of them with you. But owners don't usually keep track of where their pianos came from, so yarns take hold. Some are doozies: A note on a piano's flank that sits in a barn in Hillsboro:
This piano belonged to Adolf Hitler's piano tuner.
Here's the link to the full story.
David Stabler is a pianist, writer, dad and cyclist. He's working on a novel based on his childhood years living in Africa and rode across America with his brother in 2017.