Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Speak to me…

In my search for my next and last piano, I’ve come to realize something. The realization is not revolutionary. In fact, it’s kind of common sense, almost to the point of being nonsensical. On Saturday, Mrs. S. and I went to the local music shop, which is basically the only music store in town reputable enough and large enough to sell a decent selection of pianos. When I walked in the door and the salesman (who turned out to be not pushy at all and very, very knowledgeable) asked, “Can I help you?”, I merely said, “Yeah, I’m here to play your pianos.” Not “buy”, not “look at”, not “price up”, “PLAY”. To which, the sales guy said, “Okay, what do you play?” And from there, I laid hands on two Steinways, a Kohler & Campbell, some kind of antique Baldwin, two or three Yamahas, and one more that I’m going to tell you about in a moment.

After playing the second Steinway, I noticed my not-revolutionary idea: price and brand are pretty irrelevant factors in deciding if you like a piano or not. Just because it’s a big, expensive, name brand piano doesn’t mean it will work for you. I can say this because, the first Yamaha I played did not thrill me, even though I’m a self declared Yamaha guy. So the sales guy put me on a Kohler, and, no. It’s nice, it’s better than 90% of pianos I’ve ever touched, but, no. Then Mrs. S, over by the lovely used mahogany Steinway said, try this one. And this one is better than 93% of the pianos I’m ever going to touch, but, no. “You don’t like it?” she asked. “I like it just fine,” I explained, “but I’m not going to buy it.”

My second time in a piano shop, and I was getting no closer to my goal.

The sales guy and I talked: about music, about what I played at UAH, about how big a room I had to put a piano in, about my obsession with Yamaha. His eyes widened, “Did you try the C7?” I looked at him. “I don’t know, did I?” He walked me over to it. I thought maybe I had played it. Sure I had. No wait, maybe not. Let’s try our standard test song: Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower”.

There. That’s it. Hear it? I do. The Yamaha C7, eleven years old, well-used by a local church, spoke. It spoke directly to me. Mrs. S of course saw all the dust and scratches. She didn’t hear what I heard. I also saw the worn hammers, the dust bunnies under the harp, and a few other imperfections, but the voice of that piano was scintillating. It was a sound I’d not heard in a long time. It was the sound I want to hear every time I hit a piano key. Unfortunately, I’m not sure about hitting up the home equity line for the piano. I’m just not sure about it. There was something satisfying about paying an annual fee because the HELOC balance was $0.

Oh, well. We walked around some more. Looked at a new C7 which, surprisingly, did not sound quite as sweet as the old one. It was, however, situated on tile, so the harmonics were bouncing all over the place, but I still felt differently about it, compared to the used one. Couldn’t help but notice the price tag of the new one was more than double the used one, too. Next to it was an elaborate mahogany inlaid, squat little baby grand. It had a little gold bird on it and said, Vogel. The sales guy said it was hand crafted in Poland. He said, we’ve all been surprised at how good it sounds. Really? Poland? Hand crafted? “It’s pretty,” Mrs. S said. Okay. Let’s cut to the chase and try some Miles Davis on this one. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on a piano that sounds like it came from Toys R’Us.

But, believe it or not, I heard it again. In fact, I was stunned. I played some more. I could hear it, plain as day. The Vogel spoke mellifluously in the same tongue and tone of the C7. It was incredible. I looked into the casing. How could that voice be coming out of that little box? Doesn’t matter. If it’s going to talk to me, I’m going to listen. And with apologies to the fine companies of Steinway and Yamaha, whose pianos I love, I’ll take the Vogel action every day of the week. It was smooth, even, strong, fluid, precise, and (I’ll say it) beautiful. There could be no better translator for the voice of that piano, another reason (I guess) why it spoke to me.

I will give some other pianos chances to speak to me, but my realization is, I’ll not buy a piano that doesn’t speak to me.

Vogels and C7s and I are going to be having more conversations in the future. Hopefully, a lot of them.

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