Thursday, February 7, 2008


I've always wanted a piano.

I've always considered it ironic that I, the most musical of my siblings, should in childhood never have had the chance to take lessons due to lack of family funds.

It always seemed to me a tragedy, if not a sacrilege, that when I was about six my dad traded our piano in on a buzzy electric organ.

So a month or so ago, when a church in my presbytery advertised an upright piano free for the taking to any church or individual that wanted it, I started to dream.

The congregation's in the middle of renovations after a fire last summer and they need the old piano out of the way. I'd like a free piano. What could be more ideal for everyone?

I answered the email directly, stating that of course, a church should have first claim, but if no one else offered for it . . .

No one did. I began to dream more vividly. I talked to some friends who'd recently acquired a used piano of their own to get their help in moving what I hoped soon would be mine. I measured likely walls that the piano could go up against. I reminded myself to make sure it was mounted on wheels, so I could move it when the time comes to refinish the baseboards.

And today I arranged to come out and look at it. I found the instrument pushed out of the way, crowded into what used to be the pastor's office, off the new-laid vinyl tile floor in the fellowship hall.

It is a beauty. Forgot to note down the serial number (idiot!), but it's a Philadelphia Lester, probably at least 100 years old. The carving is lovely without being overdone. Keys all of ebony or of ivory overlay. None of the keys stick or go down without coming back up. True, two of them don't sound-- they're missing their hammers. But they're the G7 and the C8 way at the top, and if in the short term I'm using the piano mainly to teach myself vocal repertoire, repairing those can wait. It's definitely out of tune, but not wildly so. The works are accessible from the front, which should make tuning easier. And the bench comes with it.

However. However. This baby is big. A lot bigger than I expected. Almost five and a half feet wide at the upper cornice and four foot eight inches high and twenty-eight inches deep. A lot bigger than the more modern piano my friends recently used a refrigerator dolly and three guys to move. I showed the pictures to them this evening, and the husband said, "My dad's dolly won't hold that. You'll need six strong men. And a pickup truck."

He did not sound encouraging. Or too eager to volunteer, either.

And my front steps are another nightmare. Five big concrete risers in a stair that goes out sideways. No way a piano that size is making that turn from my walkway to those stairs. I'd have to get permission to shoot at it from the neighbors' yard. If the ground is frozen it might not destroy their grass, but who can really tell?

And it'd need a ramp. Definitely a ramp. I don't see even six strong guys lifting that behemoth up those steps.

And then this evening, I went on eBay to see what pianos like this are being offered for. Didn't find any equivalent, but I did find (and buy) an inexpensive booklet on how to buy used upright pianos, being sold by a piano tech in New Jersey. According to him, tuning and reconditioning an old piano can run into the hundreds or thousands!

Then there's the transport problem at the church end. This was the Sunday School piano, and it's down in the church basement. You'd think that aspect of the problem would have hit me this afternoon when I was over there inspecting it, but no, I was going dreamy over the fluted columns and the applique scrollwork! We walked down a narrow set of stairs with a 180 degree turn at the top to get down to that lower level. Surely there's got to be another exit, but where? Getting the instrument into my house looks easy compared to this!

My piano dreams are rapidly dissipating.

Or are they?

My friend is all for arranging nephews with pickup trucks and all sorts of other help, if, as she says, I've got my heart set on having it.

I told her no, not quite . . . But I'm going to give it a good shot, keeping in mind how broke I am.

First thing is to find out what the local piano tuner would charge to meet me at the church and tell me what I'd be getting into for tuning and repairs.

Then it might be worthwhile finding out what real professional piano movers would want to be paid.

And if that's too rich for my blood, maybe I'll just tell the people at the church that if they really really really want to get their old piano out of the way of their renovation work, they'll have to supply the manpower to get it out of their basement.

I can dream, can't I?


Jayne said...

Sure you can dream! Doesn't cost a thing. My brother, my dad, two cousins & an uncle moved a piano of somewhat smaller dimensions into--and later out of--our family's basement when I was a kid. They used a pickup truck, ramps of sturdy lumber, wrapped it in blankets and lowered it down the stairs with ropes and those long webbing straps movers use. A tedious undertaking, to be sure, but it can be done. Save your neighbors' grass by laying down plywood (or using the same lumber you used for the ramp)and rolling the piano across that. I'd measure carefully to make sure it'll fit through your doors and around corners, though, before starting the whole process. And I'd sure ask the church for some help. It's a gorgeous piano. Hope you can get it!

Jennifer said...

Pianos are wonderful! As I said on your next post... we rented a piano dolly for $20 and rented a truck with a hydrolic lift to get it in. We used 4 people (including me) to move OUR 1900's upright grand (similar proportions), using handmade ramps (two of them that we moved over and over), the wheels on the dolly, and LOTS of beer.