My love for piano is the theme of many a blog entry here. This love is not merely constrained to the music created by the piano but also encompasses the physical instrument itself.
After taking general music lessons at the Yamaha Music School in Toronto from ages 4-6, I apparently evinced enough interest in my elementary keyboarding endeavours for my parents to invest in a piano for me. It was a very cheap upright that did not seem to bear any particular brand, and I would use it for the next ten years of my life.
My never-wavering dream, though, was to play on a black grand piano. It had to be black, of course, because, in my childish mind, black was the only appropriate colour for a piano to be (my upright, in contrast, was a sort of reddish-brown). First at my private lessons at Yamaha, then at lessons with my first piano teacher in the States, I would get to live this dream once a week.
As a child, I delighted in beholding the inner workings of a grand piano. Each one of the eighty-eight keys is attached to a hammer, which strikes one, two, or three strings when the corresponding key is depressed.
Hitting a key would simultaneously cause the damper to rise. The damper, which is really just a glorified piece of felt, rests upon the strings to keep them from vibrating; thus, when the damper is lifted, the note is able to resonate from the strings. From the piano bench, I loved following the dampers' up and and down motion, mirrored by that of the hammers, as I played through my scales, finger exercises, and assigned pieces.
Then there are the strings themselves. They are attached to a wooden soundboard, which helps to transmit the sound. In an upright piano, the soundboard is in a vertical position, as the name "upright piano" would suggest. In a grand, though, the soundboard is stretched out horizontally, and all of the piano's metallic guts are on clear display.
It is still utterly astonishing to me, that an instrument with seemingly millions of precisely crafted parts functions with marvellous fluency.
The principle "larger is better" most certainly applies to pianos. There is a reason that the grand piano that graces the vast majority of concert halls around the world, the Steinway D-274, is almost nine feet long. Alas, I do not and will never own a Steinway model D: I would never own a space large enough to house it, and, besides, a new one retails at a tidy $90,000 or so.
When I was sixteen, my piano teacher told me that my upright was becoming increasingly inadequate for my piano playing needs. As sentimental as it was to me, I had to admit that there are limits to the musicality and tone colour that an upright -- especially mine, being of no special provenance -- can produce. Thus, my parents and I set about the long and rather arduous process of shopping for a new piano.
Even though almost all pianos these days are created mechanistically, every piano is just a shade different from all the others, a principle that, I am sure, can be applied to other instruments as well. Even pianos of the same model can, to the person playing it, vary enough such that I absolutely had to spend at least a few minutes with each prospective purchase, to see if the sound was what I wanted. Eventually, we brought home a Yamaha CG-1 baby grand -- black, of course. I named it Ted, short for Edward, and Ted is one of my most precious possessions.
Sadly, I do not get to spend much time with piano, as I am usually away at university. When I come home to practise, I usually leave the lid of the piano down. This helps keep out the dust, and the sound is already "large" enough as it. Sometimes, though, when I am feeling particularly heady about things, I will prop the lid up before setting about my usual practise regimen; but, emanating throughout, a keener, fuller, more perfect piano sound.