Goodbye Baby Grand
Dear Diar - I mean - internet blog,
Yesterday was a really big day for me because I sold my piano that my parents bought for me about 12 years ago. I am getting ready to leave the country to "find myself" and "see where life takes me" or whatever but in order to do that, I have to get rid of a lot of things and the biggest one being my baby grand. Now, I've never been the nostalgic type but this was for sure an item that has always been very close to my heart. It was hard to see it go for a lot of reasons and it got me thinking about nostalgia and why we get attached to certain things. In other words, why was this piano so special to me?
For starters, it was a gift. The idea that someone loved me so much that they would forego doing something great for themselves like go on a vacation or pay more rent and instead, spend hard earned money and time on something that they hoped would make me happy is insane! At the time, I was no doubt a shitty pre-teen that had no idea how much this kind of gift even really meant and I probably didn't deserve it at all but they still made it happen and that is, truly, a gift. But it's more than that.
This wasn't just a gift and I think my parents knew that. It was an encouragement. I have played piano since I was about five years old and I started learning on an old upright piano from the 1800's. It looked like if a player piano got into too much gambling debt and someone had taken it out back and beaten it. A lot. Keys were missing, it couldn't stay in tune if it's life depended on it, it's ivory keys were falling apart like they were trying to boycott fingers. Long story short, even the most beautiful Beethoven sonata sounded like honky-tonk when you played on this thing. Even though I started on this old "better-as-a-fish-tank" piano I loved it! I remember my dad playing one of the three songs that he knew on it when I was young and my mom always yelling at him saying, "learn another song or two, Declan". He would always tell her that he'd leave that up to me and I grabbed the rains on that statement as soon as I could. For years I fiddled away on that piano and explored music and took lessons and ignored my teachers advice like any good student does when they're young. But, unlike most kids who start playing the piano, I never lost interest and I have them to thank for that. I loved to play and would mess around on it for hours and hours sometimes and, eventually, they bought me my baby grand and re-told me our family motto, "O'Donnell's aren't quitters". That piano was a reminder of their relentless encouragement that drove me to make music the center of my life and a filter that I could decode the world with.
Connecting to my father was always a little difficult growing up. The man was a dreamer and thinker and I think he spent more time in daydreams and ideas because life was just not as friendly. He was a lawyer that could put his head down to work on a Wednesday and look up on Sunday to see what he had missed. Trying to get his attention was hard and it was even harder when you are a kid that tried their hardest not to get attention from anyone. It looked like we spent our lives in separate rooms toiling with law and finger painting respectively (It was tough to read law books but I got through it). But, after I got my baby grand at the end of every night I would sit down to play in the corner under some soft lamp light and my dad would pull up a chair and not say a word. He would just listen while my music spoke. Thanks to that piano, we could connect and that made me happy and thankful throughout all the years and those memories are the ones that I think of now that he's gone.
My mother was a sporadic artist with an eye for beauty and a heart that had room for everyone except for herself. At her core she was an artist in every sense of the word and this rubbed off on me every day. There was a perfection that she always tried to get to but could never find it. When I think about her art and how she went about it, it reminds me of how I play the piano and what it means to be an artist. The formula seems to be a crippling amount of self-doubt coupled with an obsession that makes you feel like you're not good enough to keep going but if you stop I'll die. I don't think anyone ever really saw her best works because she would spend countless hours to create something amazing and beautiful then the next day have thrown it in the trash, lit it on fire, painted over it or just ripped it to shreds. I never understood why she would do that. I think it was because she wasn't doing it for anyone but herself and when it wasn't coming from a passionate place anymore, it was trash. Almost every day she would tell me to play from the heart. Sometimes I would be playing and she would get mad because she could tell that I wasn't playing from the heart. What the hell is she talking about, I love playing and I'm playing now? Isn't that from the heart? I always thought to myself. In the end she was right. I was playing what I thought sounded good and not what I really felt. Unfortunately, it wasn't until she passed away that I finally realized what she was talking about and that the true way to play is for yourself and not for anyone else. My piano was a reminder to always play from the heart and for that, I love and thank her.
So what is nostalgia? Why did I love that piano so much and why was is so hard to watch it go?It's because it was a way my family encouraged my passion. It was a way I found a real connection with my dad and it was a way my mom taught me what it meant to be honest and speak from my heart. That piano was not just a thing, it was a reminder of all the gifts my parents imparted on me in the past and watching it go was very cathartic and I'm glad I got to take a minute to remember that those gifts aren't in the piano, they are in me.
Goodbye Baby Grand