I spotted the 1960’s Yamaha M1 in a Craigslist ad – it had been the basement possession of a Peoria woman who recently kicked the bucket. In other words, it was a Sunday driver piano. No mildew, no rat droppings, no rust. It’s sleek, with no front legs visible and a model designation that also works for a high-caliber weapon. Now $600 and sweating in a garage.
I’ve owned many electronic replicas, but only one other piano – I was just a kid, but I remember my name being listed on the title (warranty?) card for a new Schafer & Sons upright that my parents bought. There had been much harassment over the years about getting a real piano after Santa had gifted me a 49-key smaller model with batteries. The idea of it missing 39 keys of potential (and MIDI, too!) drove me absolutely nuts. I mean, I had catalogues clipped with replacement options! So the day that the real deal was delivered to the Gerik house was a joyous occasion of much merrymaking. Or noisemaking.
Fast forward a bit and watch me move off to college, packing an 88-key controller keyboard, 61-key synth and amp into my little Ford Focus. It kept me in the game, tagging along once again when I finally moved to Peoria, Illinois for my first job.
But that acoustic piano never strayed far from memory, always to be dismissed as something that a renter should never pursue along with a giant vinyl record collection and modern art weighing over 500 pounds. But every man has his price, the moment where a crazy idea seems within reach and obstacles are blatantly ignored. I was finally living in a building with an elevator and a loading dock out back. A 31-year-old should be able to handle complex machinery.
I enlist the help of my friend Chris. He brings his enclosed trailer and plenty of ratchet straps. The seller claimed that he had a piano dolly, but it ends up being a 2-foot square piece of wood on wheels. Chris and I manage to get it up a short ramp to his trailer, but there are a few times wen it feels like he might be doing it all himself. I’m a wuss.
We hustle through rush-hour traffic toward Downtown Peoria, keenly aware that there is precious cargo in back. It’s all elevators and level floors from here! On the final turn toward my building, I hear a noise. Not a terrifying noise of a piano exploding, but the sound of weight shifting. We’ll be okay.
The vehicle comes to a stop at the loading dock, the doors swing open on the trailer and I nearly retch. THE PIANO HAS TOPPLED. THE KING IS DEAD.
I later explain to the piano technician that “a few things went wrong” and that the piano “was in pretty great shape” otherwise. I’m a liar. The legs of the bench have punched two deep holes into the wood underneath the key bed. It’s hopeless – splintered wood, regret for roping a friend into the mess, sorrow for even thinking I was responsible enough for a piano. Two fangs sunk into my dream.
We push the ruined piano upright, carefully pull the piano bench out of the piano and shove it into the elevator. It’s a beautiful paperweight. My hands engage keys, activating the the Rube Goldberg action of bringing hammer to string, and it WORKS PERFECTLY.
The bench, on the other hand, is in shambles. It has taken on the task of supporting 600 pounds admirably. I throw the thing into a corner of the apartment and decide to never use it again except for firewood for a fireplace I don’t even possess.
This brings us forward eight months, with registered piano technician Barbara finishing part two of a full regulation on the trooper and I’ve never been happier. The bench is fixed and I’ve spent about the same amount of money to restore it as to get it in the first place. THIS PIANO HAS HISTORY.