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Pia, pia, piano……..

Yesterday was piano exam day for my younger daughter (middle child), so it seems as good as reason as any to post a photo or two of our piano.

This time her exam was held in Ballynahinch, last time it was in North Belfast. It was much better for the following reasons :

  • less stressful getting there, a pleasant journey through pleasant countryside to the small town of Ballynahinch, instead of the inevitable heavy traffic and delays getting to the Old Park Road in Belfasy
  • held in modern church halls, with plenty of room to wait with a younger, ninendo playing son instead of a dark wood paneled church vestry with creaky chairs and loudly ticking clock
  • actual exam room not within listening distance of the waiting room – this time I didn’t have to hold my breath as she played her pieces

She came out smiling, relieved it was over, and just a bit annoyed about mistakes in her Sight Reading.

It always brings back memories of my piano playing days….we learned to play on the same piano! I have shared some of these details before, a few years ago, but here is some of it again for my newer readers!

My brothers and I all learned to play the piano from an elderly spinster (maybe she was not that old, but to us she seem prehistoric!) who did not believe in positive praise, and I learned more through fear than through the love of music.

She taught in a small gloomy room crammed full of old victorian furniture and wilting house plants.  There was an open coal fire which was always roaring throughout the year, whatever the weather!  From time to time she would shovel on some “slack” on to the fire, and smoke would billow out and fill the room, making your eyes water and your throat sting.

She would write in our notebooks each week to report back to our parents of our progress:

Sight Reading – Fair
Scales – Very Fair
Minuet – has obviously NOT practiced this…..

On the very odd occasion you would get a “Reasonably Good” for a piece, but that was about it!  I don’t think we were THAT bad, she just did not feel the need for excessive praise.  The worst time would be if you made a mistake in a piece, and she would rap the piano keys with a ruler that she used to keep time. This would startle me so much, inevitably I would make yet another mistake.

It is a wonder I even stuck at it so long – I made it to Grade 5, but to this day still hate to play if anyone else is in the room! However I do love our piano – it has be passed down through the family.

When my parents were moving house about 20 years ago, they decided they did not really have room for it, and proposed getting rid of it. I protested, and asked they keep it until I had a house of my own, and it was duly delivered to our first home.

When the piano tuner was last here he was impressed by the lovely sound it produced (particularly when played by him!) and was able to tell me a little more about it. It was made in 1899 in Berlin, and is a Carl Otto piano. Amazingly everything is original, even the strings. I know it has been in my mother’s family for a long time and it was probably new when they purchased it. I love to imagine it being played by previous generations, and the family occasions it has “witnessed” over the last 110 years.

A few piano quotes for you:

‘Life is like a piano…what you get out of it depends on how you play it.’
Tom Lehrer

‘There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays by itself.’
Johann Sebastian Bach

So, my question for you is – did you ever learn to play a musical instrument? Do you still play it today?

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  1. So glad her exam went well!! That system of exams isn’t used here in the states by most, although I am aware of it as a teacher. You know I love your piano – it’s so gorgeous and so unusual with the candlesticks on it. What an amazing family heirloom!

  2. Oh, piano contest. The thought brings a slight shudder to my soul. 🙂
    That is a gorgeous piece of family history. I have never seen one quite so beautiful. I absolutely love the candlesticks and wood carvings. I can’t believe it’s all original! It is truly a treasure – not just for it’s beauty, but for the sentimentality.
    My grandmother taught us (me and my five siblings) all to play and it was a wonderful experience. I still piddle around with it today, and teach my kids, but I don’t really play any more.

  3. What a beautiful piano! I play piano and teach lessons. I cringe at the description of your teacher. I wonder how many children she made hate music? Hopefully, there are too many more teachers like that out there. Carla

  4. I love the piano. I also played up to Grade 5 and recently took it up again. I hate people hearing me play also. My parent were going to get rid of their piano and I said to keep it for my first house. I still have it and hope that my boys will play to but if they are anything like my brother, they will protest and play the guitar instead.

  5. congrats on her passing her exam!! I love the creative angles of the piano -very cool.
    I play the piano too
    I was never as good as I could have been – I didn’t like practicing much – now I wish I had though. Lessons learned I guess when you become a grown up!

  6. It is beautiful and I enjoyed reading you memories..I have never seen one with candle sconces like that.
    I took lessons and practiced on an upright which was old and not as lovely as yours. I didn’t start until I was a teenager and quickly found other ways to spend my time…I bought a piano for our home many years later and again took lessons for a year or two…I sold it to buy a sewing machine in 2003. I learned to play for myself but was never good enough to play for others..and wouldn’t be able to if I were.
    Mama Bear

  7. congratulations to your daughter for making it! i use to play the piano, i tried to learn but didn’t get any better…i don’t know why. didn’t like my teacher too…hehehe. it is my dream to buy a piano and for my kids to learn. beautiful pictures by the way!!

  8. I played piano for pretty much my entire childhood. Unfortunately, it was not an enjoyable experience at all, for reasons that will require about twenty more years of therapy. To this date, I cannot play a note. I think it’s a mental block because I was actually quite good. Not gifted – I had to work really hard at it, but I was good. It’s a shame, really, because I adore the piano and often wish that I could play it well today. But on the plus side, I learned from my own childhood how NOT to have your child learn a musical instrument. My kids both played an instrument for awhile and it was one of of the very few things that I was not a control freak about – I simply wanted them to enjoy the experience and have fun with it.

    I also played the flute for a few years!

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog, and sharing the photo of your piano – lovely to see another one with some striking similarities.

      1. Since I wrote that comment, I found out more about this piano. It was not made by Dietmann as I originally thought. It is much older. It dates to 1915 or thereabouts. It is an actual Carl Otto that must have been imported from Germany at some point. Somewhere during it’s life it was damaged, as one can clearly see repairs to the plate. The repairs might have been done by Dietmann. Below the Carl Otto plate I found the barely visible remains of the original engraving: It says “Müller”, which I know used to be a seller of pianos in Cape Town in the early 1900s.

        I just had it tuned — a lengthy affair that took 5 hours and cost a pretty penny — and it seems to be in good shape. I cannot believe I actually bought a 100-year old piano completely by accident 🙂

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