Bechstein Blues

piano

It was time.

It was as simple as that. Sad but inevitable.

The old Bechstein Grand Piano (Model V, 6 ft. 8 ins., Berlin 1899) had to go.

It was showing its age, not in an outward way – it looked as impressive as ever, still capable of drawing gasps of admiration from unsuspecting visitors walking in on it – but its workings, most significantly, its ability to stay in tune, were failing, and it was becoming increasingly non-functional, like a chair so uncomfortable you don’t want to sit on it, or a table that’s liable to collapse if you lean on it, and the piano tuner’s prognosis was that it would continue its decline without extensive repairs at a price we couldn’t afford.

So it went on Kijiji, the decision to sell like the decision to take a loved dog to the vet to bring an end to its life, necessary and unavoidable, perhaps, but still a crass betrayal for its years of giving and companionship and comfort. After over a year, and numerous enquiries, and several visits from prospective buyers, the piano was sold, and left us on a fittingly dark and stormy night, in ceaseless, torrential rain, and moved into an interesting new life, destined for a bit part in a movie, which at least partly mollified the sadness of its going.

Of course we sold not just the piano, but also my memories of growing up with it, of seeing it in the drawing room of my great aunt’s house in England, the piano’s original home, a room that seems to me in retrospect to have been a kind of Victorian holdover, dark, with heavy drapes and chunky furniture; of piano lessons on Saturday morning, ten years old, then home to practice – on a grand piano!; of missing the piano so much when it was sent to London for overhaul and maintenance that I sat with music book on my lap, air playing, so preceding the mercifully brief fad of air guitar by a good number of years, except that the histrionic movement associated with air guitar is difficult to pull off with air piano when you’re burdened with a tome of Beethoven sonatas.

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The problem is, what do you replace a magnificent grand piano with, an instrument that has been in the family for three generations, and that has provided music in at least two countries on two continents?

Well you shrug off your proud Ludditism and your purist leanings and enter the 21st century and go digital and promptly and heartlessly buy a Roland DP90Se.

And confirm what you knew already, that the digital sound is reasonably authentic. If you were to listen from another room, I think you’d be hard put to distinguish the Roland from an acoustic piano. Moreover, the Roland is flexible, capable of playing a Concert Grand sound (its default setting), as well as several other Grand sounds (Ballade, Bright, Fortepiano …), some on the cheesy side (Magical) but you don’t have to play them if you don’t want to and they can be fun used in strict moderation, and a variety of Upright sounds (Rock, Ragtime …) and hundreds of instrumental sounds most of which will probably never get used.

Maybe the touch isn’t quite the same, but that’s okay, and the whole experience of playing it is different (for a start I’ve never had to keep an operating manual beside me when I was playing the piano), and that’s okay, too, when you get used to it. With the Bechstein you play with more than six feet of formidably elegant instrument in front of you, and you feel its bulk and solidity under your fingers and in the sound, and you never quite feel you’re doing it justice unless you play with spectacular ability (which I don’t), and don some kind of formal dress, the default attire of jeans and t shirt adding insult to modest performance.

And while the Roland is not an instrument whose stature dominates a room, like the Bechstein – it’s not even the size of a console upright acoustic piano – it’s not unattractive, with its sleek shiny casing and its clean lines, and its sound rivals an acoustic piano, even a grand, in quality, and with the boost of an amplifier can disturb an even wider area of the neighbourhood than a traditional piano.

Here’s a lament for the departed Bechstein, Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D, played on the Roland DP90Se with the Pipe Organ setting.

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