Ode to my Piano

“She’s packed with all her parts and loaded safely on the truck! We’ll take great care of her and get her there safe and full of beautiful sound.”

The She is K.Kawai, aka “KK” aka “KayKuhWahee.” Our youngest daughter named her KK because saying the full name was too challenging for her at age 2.

KK is our family’s beloved 50-year-old grand piano. She is living the sum of her life thus far through four generations of piano and vocal practice, professional voice lessons, opera workshops, family recitals, singing hat shows, choir retreats, duets, trios, quartets, oboe with other instrument accompaniments, and much more in our family. KK never complains and always works to full potential, no matter how challenging the player on her keyboard.

It is bittersweet to convey the emotion of making music on a piano and what it means personally to me. One of my earliest memories is being on the bench of a piano my maternal grandfather was playing at a singing convention on the grounds of a Methodist church in Texas. On that particular afternoon, Grandpa Brock was playing gospel songs from a new Stamps-Baxter songbook while leading the congregation. Granny let me sit beside him on the bench if I promised to be “church-quiet.” When he leaned down to ask me what he should play next I told him “Jingle Bells.” As he always did, he began a gospel introduction with flair and I started singing with the congregation soon joining in. Likely there has never been a better gospel rendition of “Jingle Bells” ever created at a singing. He also sold out of the new songbooks that day. 🙂

Fast forward a bit and I’m sitting on the bench of Grandpa’s piano in their home while he’s tuning it. I traveled many a Saturday morning as his tuning assistant. As a treat for good behavior, he would play anything I requested so he could “test the action of the soundboard and make certain the tuning tines are tight enough.” He would also play popular radio tunes while showing me specific notes and chord progression. I was completely fascinated, thus it was time for “formal classical lessons.” At age 5, my remarkable teacher, Ruth Ann Lively Hoffman, merged great patience and kindness with firm and consistent musicianship. Grandpa and mom knew her well and trusted her classical method for teaching and reading music. She is also the blessed soul who nurtured the lyrical, gentle, and sensitive side of my musicianship while challenging me technically in profound ways. Ruth Ann poured her extraordinary talents and skills into three generations of our family (accompanying mom when she sang and then teaching piano to me, my sis, and my oldest daughter). She remains a treasured musician, mentor, and friend of our family always.

KK’s actual introduction to my musical world started when I was 10 one early morning with Grandpa at Oak Cliff Music Company in Dallas, Texas. This was around the time I was serious about being a concert pianist; I was a determined pre-teen. As he was tuning and I was playing afterwards, Grandpa decided it was imperative we had a “grand”er piano for daily practice, especially if one of us decided music was our intended career path. He told me that day: “Music in general, especially music created on a piano, stirs my soul. Master the art and feed your soul, Bethy.” While my sister endured piano lessons because mom made her (she wanted both of us to read music well), she was much more serious about singing. As I practiced and memorized classical piano works, B created lyrics and ran around the room singing them to classical pieces. As it turns out, sis was the better piano player AND overall musician! Not only did she complete a doctorate and make music her life’s work, but we raised another musician in the next generation as well. Perhaps DNA had something to do with it? My bet (and profound thanks) is on Grandpa Brock.

While not my forever calling, my love for music in general and piano in private continued through the formative and college years well into family life with M and our daughters. Even as an elementary principal, one of the many grants we wrote for additional funding involved an electronic set of classroom piano keyboards so our remarkable music teacher could teach our learners beginning piano. She organized three after-school clubs: Singers (choir), Ringers (handbells), and Fingers (piano). It’s no secret the research shows basic keyboarding and piano knowledge not only enhances musical talent in all other instruments; it builds stronger brain connections in reading, writing, math calculations, and problem solving. And yes, I was invited to play with them on several occasions and KK always helped me practice.

So our beloved KK is pedaling north today to my sister’s beautiful new home. While sad because I will miss her and her formidable daily presence in my life, she remains within our family where her calling and service are needed for more important missions. KK will be the wonderful sounding board to an extraordinary voice teacher (B) while living with a master pianist-in-residence who will nurture her (A), as scores of talented young opera singers encounter her percussive precision. Once she’s settled and properly tuned, I have little doubt she will vibrantly sing in her daily life as an instrumental liaison for musical excellence.

J.S. Bach noted, “There is nothing remarkable about it…all one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” Maybe so, Herr Bach, but to me, KK’s 88 piano keys of ebony and ivory delicately balanced within a maple case will always reflect the sounds of a million, brilliant colors in my brain. When words fail, your music, KK, speaks volumes to the mind and soul; thank you. Thank you for resonating and flowing in constant service through my heart, mind, and musical soul all these years. Thank you for a half century of precious musical moments, powerful memories, and familial connections within the four generations of our family who play you. May those who encounter your glorious action and rich tones play and sing volumes of musical greatness for generations to come!