“I Am The Piano,” by R.D. Ronstad

Feb 27th, 2019 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

I wanted to learn one song on the piano. A single song from beginning to end, no slip-ups. Why? Because it was there—like Mount Everest was for George Mallory. The moment I laid eyes on my nephew’s new Yamaha Clavinova CLP-625, I knew exactly what George meant.

That’s not to say, necessarily, there were no ulterior motives. If you know how to play a popular song all the way through on the piano with even moderate competence you’re almost guaranteed a song’s worth of attention whenever there’s a piano and a group of people around. So I guess you could say I wanted to learn a song on the piano because it was there and there and there. But then, so are mountains.

Consequently, three or four times a week, during my regular visits to my nephew–who, by the way, lives just down the street from me—I worked on learning how to do just that.

The song I picked was the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” Because, who doesn’t like the Beatles? And even if you don’t like the Beatles, who doesn’t like the sun? I found a very helpful YouTube tutorial that used a rolling display of colored (one color for each hand) bars showing how to play that song. “A piece of cake,” I thought. The display showed quite clearly what needed to be done; all I had to do, was do it. I knew it would be rough going at first, but I was determined to be persistent. Eventually, muscle memory would take over.

Well, I was persistent, diligently practicing for about a half hour during every visit to my nephew’s place. But unfortunately, after three months’ time, I was still bogged down in the middle of a long cold lonely winter. Apparently I don’t have muscle memory, I have muscle dementia.

I found this lack of progress especially disheartening since, in the same amount of time my nephew, who was as much of a novice as I when he purchased the piano (on a whim), had taught himself to play the “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme, “Let it Go” (from the movie Frozen), and the “Mission Impossible” theme—all of them flawlessly while at the same time reading (and sometimes flipping through) the latest copy of Empire Magazine, which he kept propped up on that ledge on the piano where sheet music usually goes. Further proof that my sister-in-law is a space alien.

Then one day, while sitting disconsolately on the piano stool, not far into my fourth month of practice, and contemplating whether I should give up the whole enterprise, conceding that the mountain, as it were, had sent me spiraling to my demise, I distinctly heard a voice in my head. It was Chevy Chase’s voice, and it said: “Be the piano.”

Now, hearing this voice did not startle me as much as you might think. I’d seen Caddyshack eighteen times (no accident) and as a consequence, on any number of occasions I’d heard Chevy telling me things such as “be the champagne cork” or “be the plastic wrap” or “be the stupid freakin’ knotted shoelace.” But still, “be the piano?” That was a whole different ball game. Yet Chevy’s advice had never failed me before. So I decided to give it a try.


The first order of business was to decide which type of piano to become. I immediately ruled out being my nephew’s electronic piano, because doing that might have meant I’d also have to be many other things besides–the push-button controls, the speakers, the power cord, the electrical outlet, etc. Who knew where that might end? Besides, knowing myself as I do, I feared I‘d end up freaking out every time I got ready to step into the shower. I also quickly ruled out any type of grand piano, and that for several reasons: First, trying to be a grand piano seemed a little too, well, grand. Second, I discovered that grand pianos were also referred to as “horizontal pianos,” and I definitely wasn’t ready to be permanently horizontal yet. And third, whenever I thought about being a grand piano, I had visions of Jerry Lee Lewis jumping me or setting me on fire. That then left me with the category of what are known as “vertical pianos.” So I did some research to discover which type of vertical said me more than the others.

Here’s what I found. There are four types of vertical pianos—spinet, console, studio, and upright. I kind of wanted to be a spinet, simply because I like saying spinet, but these verticals apparently have a bad reputation. (“Cheap,” “small,” “inadequate,” “zero dynamic control,” “tuning problems,” pianoworks.com says about spinets–and while at various times I’ve felt those descriptors fit me, I wouldn’t want to broadcast it.) Uprights are described by musiced.about.com as “the type of piano your great grandparents or grandparents used to play,” so uprights were eliminated. (I mean, my grandparents are cool, but not that cool. And even they probably didn’t think my great grandparents were all that cool. Besides, I was afraid being an upright might lead people to think I was some kind of Puritan piano or something.) Studios were a possibility, since in my reading I didn’t come across anything negative about them. Still, they sounded kind of bland: “[T]he kind of piano you usually see in music schools and music studios,” says musiced.about.com., adding that they have “good tone quality” and are “very durable.” (Damning with faint praise, in my book.) Consoles, on the other hand, are described as “coming in various styles and finishes,” accompanied by “direct action” (not sure what that means, but it does sound like something I’d like to have said about me) and, as a result, “more enhanced tones.” What may have clinched it for me though was that consoles are described as providing “a variety of choices” for people concerned about their “furniture complimenting.” If I was going to be a piano, I did want to get along with the other furniture. So console it was.

But since I didn’t know anyone who owned a console piano, I knew I would have to buy one. (I certainly didn’t think I could do a good job of becoming a piano I saw in a catalog or a music store window.) I found a used 1983Yamaha with bench (“Cherry Console French Provincial”—prefect!) on eBay for a little over a thousand dollars. Five business days later, a box truck with my piano inside showed up in the driveway in front of my second floor condo.

When I went down to greet the delivery man I saw Nate, the teen-age son of my downstairs neighbor Mrs. Gugliotta, skateboarding (illegally) around the circular fountain that stands at the center of our parking lot. I had run into Nate (always in his careworn red and black hoody and ripped jeans) on several occasions in the past as he was skateboarding or grudgingly taking out the garbage, and had been lucky if I received even a grunt from him in response to any greetings I offered. But today he came over as the deliveryman and his helper were removing the piano from the back of the truck, all of a sudden keenly interested in how I was doing. And, of course, wanting to know what was in the box.

I suspect he knew all along what was in the box since on the box, which he had been staring at all the time he was inquiring about my health, was printed pianome.com in six inch high letters and because, as it turned out, Nate was looking for a real piano to play. He said he had been playing for a couple of years and loved it, but only had a cheap electronic keyboard that, he informed me, didn’t have weighted or even semi-weighted keys (I kind of knew what that meant, but also kind of didn’t), and that he would kill (I don’t think he really would have, though I may have flinched at the time) for a chance to practice on a real piano.

Well, never let it be said I’m unwilling to offer a hand up to tomorrow’s leaders, even if they only ever grunt at me. So we worked out an arrangement–I would give Nate a key to my place and allow him to practice on my piano after school, while I was still away at work, in exchange for some light vacuuming, dusting, polishing and general tidying up. All pending, of course, Mrs. Gugliotta’s approval, which she later gave along with a guarantee (which I protested wouldn’t be necessary, but was secretly glad she offered) that she would make sure Nate would not abuse the privileges he’d been given.

That was a Saturday; our arrangement kicked off the following Monday. On that Saturday though, Nate performed a mini-recital for me—a recital that astonished me on two fronts. Astonished me because he was so good, and astonished me because most of the songs he played were from video games, and they were so good. Ace Combat Zero, Demon’s Souls, Metal Gear Solid—who would have guessed games with titles like these could include such wonderful music? And Nate played them all expertly—to my ears at least, though Nate himself bemoaned the fact that he had “cheated” several times because he wasn’t used to the feel of the keys.


As I expected, the following week went with a hitch. Nate apparently thought instructions should follow him, rather than the other way around. It seemed he did make a sincere effort, since the clean rags I gave him all ended up dirty, the level of the cleaning solutions I left for him went down noticeably, and there was more dirt in the vacuum cleaner bag than the previous week. But none of the things I wanted cleaned showed the result of this effort. So I could only conclude Nate had a different rating system for dirt than mine, and went with his instincts, though what those instincts were I could not and still can not determine. But no matter. I hadn’t really been looking for cheap maid service anyway. The important thing was, Nate was always gone by the time I got home, and always remembered to lock the door when he left.

As for me, I would come home every night, make and eat dinner, take a shower, and then sit down at the piano bench. I sat in front of the piano for an hour each night, examining every nook, cranny, key, string, pedal, chip, and scratch, noting especially how the shift of light affected the piano’s appearance as the sun went down. Then I sat there for another thirty minutes with my eyes closed, trying to recreate in my mind what I’d just seen. I didn’t play a note this whole week. I wanted to feel like I had become the piano before I started trying to play the piano.

Then, the second Monday, after I arrived home from work, parked my car in my assigned spot and got out, I heard Nate still playing, music coming out of the open window of my family room. He had apparently lost track of time. Truth is, I didn’t really mind at all though. I had always greatly enjoyed serendipitously becoming a secret audience—walking by a house or apartment and hearing someone practicing their music–piano, guitar, trumpet, voice, it didn’t matter. I never lingered in these situations though. That, it seemed to me, would be musical eavesdropping and sort of creepy. But today of course, I had no choice. The music was coming from my place.

Anyway, as I stood outside my car and listened, Nate was coming to the end of the Skyrim theme—a dramatic piece that was my favorite among those he had played that Saturday. And then, when Nate played the last, single, isolated, low, plangent note of that piece, a note that brought to a satisfying conclusion all the drama that had gone before–it hit me. Nate had not lost track of time. Time had lost track of me. Because I had already arrived, ahead of myself. Because, I am the piano.


R.D. Ronstad does not know which is his best foot.

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