Riding the Mother Ship

This month’s issue is one fantastically rich chord. The piano is really more than an instrument; it is also an archetype for music. Whether deeply involved in music or not, most people will find the piano an altar-like place where we confront music at its most elemental. I think a case might be made that any musician’s or composer’s relationship to the piano will tell you a lot about them and their work. (Ah, the revelations of self-analysis: I may not play the piano so very well, but in my garage, I have a piano-board for playing all the keys at once!)

We are so accustomed to the piano’s sound that it may be easy to forget just how remarkable and glorious that sound is. Just intonation aficionados may rail about the tyranny of the piano’s equal temperament, but there is something undeniably singular and penetrating about the piano’s capacity for in-tune, sonorous resonance. And when you work a lot with an electronic keyboard, playing the piano is like breathing fresh air, and tasting organic produce after being dulled by the industrial alternatives.


John Kennedy
Daguerreotype by Robert Shlaer

And now, a word from the AMC President: apparently, there are over 10 million pianos in the United States. And every U.S. President has owned a piano save three: Gerald Ford, George Bush, and George W. Bush. Are you surprised? Someone needs to tell them that a grand piano’s strings carry over 30 tons of tension, yet can be gently caressed to sound like the bell in a child’s heart.

Elsewhere on our pages, the pianists have spoken. In our Hymn and Fuguing Tune section, 46 of them answer the question of what they’re looking for in a piece of contemporary music. And there is a lot of collective wisdom there. In my performance experience, pianists rank very high in the depth of their understanding of what is going on in a piece of music; it perhaps comes with the territory of playing the instrument that can play the score in reduction, at that elemental level. Composers, what say you? At this time in history, is working at the piano an asset or an obstacle to our work? Is that elevated row of semitones over a C-based diatonic row just an antiquated tool that dominates how we and others think? Or is the piano always going to be that oldest, best, and most faithful friend?