Letter to the Editor: Long Live the Piano

For me, the instrumental reliquary can be updated, revitalized. It’s better to work at the piano with pencil and staff paper than to keep scrapping your last computer or to be tempted by the latest big-budget action flick playing on the big-screen T.V. now replacing the keyboard in so many affluent living rooms. I’d take a quiet room with a piano (not a synthesizer) any day. I think it’s worth salvaging the piano, making it sing and drum in new ways. Admittedly, it’s a box with metal and wooden moving parts, that’s all. A coffin or a hearse isn’t a bad analogy. But then again, what will we do with all the cars and SUVs when oil becomes prohibitively expensive and they’re all scrapped? How about using these former dictators’ tools as new instruments? In like fashion, the piano, with all its limits, sits around silent way too much. And as composers, we must thrive on limits: to sing, drum, or create imaginary vibrato on the piano is not deadly; it can represent a form of survival.

And, incidentally, has there been a better orchestra-in-a-box created for the use of composers? Orchestration at the piano can be a rich exercise in limits and subtle possibilities. I can’t imagine turning my back to those potentials, and since pianos are rejected or sold inexpensively throughout the world, it has become more affordable to obtain a decent one than to upgrade a computer.

Like it was for Byron Au Yong, the piano was an escape for me as a child. And it was also my best form of resistance to the very despotic elements with which Byron associates the instrument. I could thumb my pianistic nose at my materialistic, stultifying home environment by brewing massive chords or sculpting tortured lines (late at night, so my parents couldn’t sleep). And nobody complained: I was making “classical” music instead of watching T.V. or taking drugs!

I continue my fascination with the piano as both composer and performer. It is not necrophilia, but perhaps cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. There’s life yet in those keys, strings, sound boards. Let’s coax more and more life out of them.

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