The piano that I love has a chip in the stained ivory at the end of the key at Middle C. I cannot say for certain where it came from. It might have been my doing when little; when I felt loud, the piano could be loud too. I only discovered later that pounding my fists on its’ keys did more physical harm than cathartic good. Perhaps it was my mother, or a moving accident, or her aunt when she was learning to play, or perhaps some incident farther back that created the chip. I suppose I will never know.
You cannot hear this, but I am tapping Middle C. It is a white note, a key in the middle of the keyboard, just under the piano maker’s logo. This is where most of my songs begin. I will wander up and down the keyboard in major and minor variations, depending on where my heart is at the moment—marches when happy and dearths when sad—I will always start with my right thumb on Middle C.
Pianos, I think, belong to a select group of nostalgia. They last several lifetimes, passed from generation to generation of players. Sometimes, as I sit at my piano, I marvel at this hulk of wood and metal—this object—that has entertained families and singalongs, frustrated young fingers, wooed a few ladies, and been host to the best and worst songs ever imagined. I think about how much time the family I know has spent sitting in the very place I am sitting, touching the same keys that I am touching.
This piano has been handed down through at least three generations of my family to wind up in my room in a house not too far from the city. I only know a small part of its travels; that it moved from my great aunt’s house to all of my childhood homes, until finally my parents had no more room for it. This is the piano my great aunt played when the world was at war; this is the piano my mother played as her aunts raised her; this is the piano my father played as he grappled with his greatest failure—this is now the piano I play in the best and worst of times.
I will pass this piano down to my children one day. I hope that they will have the same fond memories of growing up, hearing it echo in the halls of their childhood home. I hope it will be the same completely new discovery for my children as it was for me. They will find their own way to play it, create their own memories around it, and wonder where that tiny chip in the ivory at the end of the key at Middle C came from. Until then, I will keep it for them here in my room in a house just outside the city.