The only thing worse than hearing chopsticks played repeatedly on the piano is hearing chopsticks played repeatedly on a piano that is badly out of tune.
At the turn of the year, my daughter acquires this party trick from a school friend who has learned it from her cousin over Christmas. Chopsticks spreads like a virus among children. There can be few who are naturally immune. Roll on the day when the MMR vaccine gives way to the MMRC – Mumps, Measles, Rubella and Chopsticks.
But as this vaccination has yet to be invented, I decide the most effective remedy for my household is to get my piano tuned. My previous tuner in Bristol having retired, I scour the internet in hope of finding a new one closer to home. To my amazement, I discover there’s one in Didmarton – virtually on my doorstep. A phone call later he’s literally on my doorstep, toolbag in hand.
Clearing the photos and other debris from the top of the piano, I explain to him the history of my particular instrument. As I do, I realise why I’ve been so tardy in getting it tuned: I’m worried that it’s now beyond redemption and will have to be written off. A humble “cottage upright”, it’s not a valuable instrument, but it is precious to me.
Exactly a hundred years old, it belonged to my beloved grandmother, who was born in 1900. Her stepfather bought it for her when she was about eight – the age my daughter is now. In her twenties, she took it to her new marital home in Sidcup. (I can still picture the piano in the corner of her dining room, family photos and trinkets on the top, and I often dream that I’m back in that room having tea.)
Her husband, my grandfather, was a gifted musician, too poor to afford a musical career, but music was always his passion, passed down the family line. Unfortunately his musical genes passed me by, but I did eventually gain the piano. It went first to my more talented cousin, whose skills soon outgrew the instrument’s powers. A trained opera singer, she played this piano at my wedding reception.
That I have chosen the right piano tuner to revive this family heirloom soon becomes clear. He reveals that his mother was also born in 1900. When I tell him my daughter’s name is Laura, he immediately begins to play the eponymous tune, which I’ve never come across before, declaring it to be his favourite. When she comes home from school, Laura will be thrilled.
Lovingly he coaxes the piano back into good order. He suppresses the squeaks that had lately haunted the pedals. He handcrafts new wooden shafts that give new voice to keys that had turned dumb. In turn, little by little, he brings each note back to just where it should be in the scale.
And then comes the grand finale: that fabulous moment when he shows off his handiwork by playing pieces that test every note on the keyboard. It’s the piano tuner’s equivalent to the typist’s quick brown fox jumping over the lazy dog.
Even if there is no cure for chopsticks, this is a most effective antidote. Thank you, Mr Felton – and may there be many encores.
This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser, a great place to find a piano tuner and many other friendly local service providers!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in another post about how my lovely Grandma, contemporary of the Suffragette Movement, taught me to value my right to vote:
and this one about how one of her old ornaments inspired my new business venture: