Hauling the piano through the yard at dusk

What’s a homestead without music?

From tales of old, we hear of folks sitting on their porches playing a guitar or fiddle and dancing around the yard on summer evenings, or gathering around the piano at Christmastime to sing carols with family.  For 9 years, I’ve lived without a piano.  Occasionally, I would borrow some piano practice time from a church or, during college, wait in line to practice one of 5 or so available pianos inside the art building.  It’s been so long without regular practice that I can’t really say I’m a pianist anymore, but it’s in there somewhere, and I’ve felt unbalanced without music in my life.

So when a friend needed to sell a piano before a big move, I was interested.  We hadn’t planned on buying a piano, just continuing through the months and years without music, focused on the work of building our homestead.  But I can’t say I would want to live in a homestead without music.

Muscling it down uneven steps

Kimba Arrives

Thus, after paying $60 and bartering a $40 food processor, and imposing a 300 pound piano on Ryan and 3 guys (many thanks to Rob, Scot, and Rahat!) who hauled it down uneven makeshift stairs into our living room, we have a piano! Er, well, at least a really heavy object that makes tin can noises, as of right now.  It’s a (roughly) 1975 Kimball console.  Ryan and I joke that it’s our Kimba piano, after Kimba the White Lion. And, like Kimba, this piano has been through a lot.

But as I write this, the wonderful angel of pianos known as Mr. Darrel Henschell is here to bring the piano back from the dead.  I cringe as I hear the clanking, creaking, metallic sounds of the tuning, feeling empathy for this old thing with no central nervous system.  I haven’t even had the piano for two days and already I’m overprotective of it!  But Mr. Henschel is a pro, he knows what he’s doing, and I would highly recommend him.

Almost inside! Moving beneath our prayer flags.

The Diagnosis

“So,” he said, “Your piano is over 100% out of tune.  It’s basically as far as it can go…here let me show you on a chart.” He points to a red line on a sheet of paper, indicating the point at which pianos go out of tune.  “Most pianos drop just below that line, and I just pull them back up to tune at standard pitch.  Your piano,” he points to the bottom of the sheet, then goes off the page, “is way down here.”

Oh. Darn.

“It’s what we call NBT,” he said.

“What does that mean?” I ask nervously.

“Never Been Tuned,” he smiles.  “Based on the age of the piano, it’s missed like 80 tunings.”

“Wow! That’s like a LOT of cavities if it went to the dentist!” I exclaimed.

He laughs.  “No that’s like going to the dentist without any teeth. And oh, look this string is broken…”

He begins to explore more of the piano’s specific “issues” and fix what he can, while I alternate between holding my breath and sighing.  Apparently, it can be tuned, as long as no strings break, but it can’t make it up to standard pitch, so we’ll be settling on 75% out of tune instead of 100+% out of tune. But it will be in tune with itself! Which is all I really need, I guess.

“So, 75% out of tune means I can play it without it hurting my ears like it does now?” I ask.

Kimba in its new home, with cat Solo on the spiral staircase.

“Oh, now it’s completely unplayable, but once it’s in tune with itself yes, it’ll sound like a piano!” We both chuckle. After the first tuning, he decides to take it up to 70% out of tune, and goes through the tuning process a second time. When it was all done, he began playing tunes similar to ragtime, reminding me of Scott Joplin.  The piano’s personality came out, and it sounded like it had once had happy saloon days out west during the age of cowboys.  It smells of a used bookshop, familiarly full of old stories – and dust, which I will be cleaning off the keys today.

He recommended tuning again in several months, around November.  At that time, it might be able to be brought up to 50% out of tune, and the following time a little further improved, and so on.  It’s like a slow & steady healing process for the piano, somewhat similar to the long-term journey I’m on right now.  We can grow better together!

Sure is nice to have a friend like Kimba to heal with me :)

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