Today Mr. Apron wrote about the piano we are hopefully about to acquire, a relic from the days when people just had pianos as pieces of furniture.  Did they have them in hopes someone in the family would play, or because someone inevitably already did?  Were piano lessons a given, a rite of passage much as SAT tutoring is today?  Did Mr. Apron’s grandfather really buy the piano to match the window treatments?  We began to discuss these pressing issues after Mr. Apron let me read his blogpost.  I recalled an interview I heard on NPR about a singer-songwriter named Alice Peacock who has begun rescuing old pianos from Craiglist and homes where they are unwanted and housing them in her barn.  Where did this spate of unwanted pianos come from?  Well, we reasoned, people of our grandparents’ generation, if not already dead (as our 8 collective grandparents are), have downsized into condos and townhomes and have decidedly not taken their pianos with them, either into Shady Acres or to the grave.  And their children no longer view having a piano, or playing a piano, as a necessity, as they’re saving their money for SAT tutoring, or spending it on unlimited data plans for their family’s smartphones.  Those who do want pianos, and want a smaller, or cheaper alternative to the $50K it costs for a gently used living-room-sized 7′ Steinway, aren’t buying the spinet/upright/console pianos that Mr. Apron’s grandfather, and my paternal grandmother bought back in the heyday of such pianos.  The spinet we’re hopefully acquiring is from then as well.  No one wants to play the tinny sound that comes from a spinet piano, nor to move the 300lb weight, nor to tune the cramped innards.  People these days who want an affordable option for a child to learn on choose electronic keyboards. 

A few years ago, living on my own for the first time, I discovered I missed being able to sit down and play piano recreationally.  My brother had long surpassed me in technical ability, and I had no designs on going anywhere with it, but I found that, when I would go visit my family, I spent downtime between insanities in the living room, playing the familiar keys.  And so I made the mistake of asking for a keyboard.  I was, I think, specific.  I knew I wanted 88 keys, the same number as a real piano, and that I wanted the keys to be touch-sensitive, so that when you banged harder, you’d get a louder note, as on a real piano.  I forget what this feature is called in the world of keyboards, but it’s not important. 

I referenced in my last post (“OMG”) the gifts my family often lavishes upon us.  I have also mentioned in my birthday posts the danger of asking for gifts from my family.  This was no exception.  What arrived (with beaming smiles on my father’s and brother’s faces [for it was the latter’s idea]) can be accurately described as a MIDI-input device.  What arrived, in my mind is an ivory elephant.  This is a keyboard which must be plugged into a computer to work.  It is only keys, same as the keyboard I’m typing on now, and requires a computer to process and generate output from the information.  The computer of course needs software (something called Cakewalk, which they generously provided), a sound card, and speakers, to play.  The computer I had did not have the ability to make the monstrosity play.  So my parents bought me a brand-spanking new computer, from which I now type, which also did not possess the necessary requirements in the way of sound cards, patches, and all the other bullshit.  So they then delivered a computer hailing from circa 1995 which had succeeded at home in the initial test-run of the keyboard.  And left me, with 2 computers (my former computer had just bitten the dust), and a gigantic piece of inert plastic with black and white keys.  Mute.  For I, too, was speechless. 

We set it up in our last apartment, and all I needed to do to play my new keyboard was boot up the dinosaur, turn on the minute speakers, open the Cakewalk program, fiddle around to tell it I wanted piano, not violin, drum kit, or full orchestra.  And then play.  Why, oh why?  Why couldn’t I have a self-contained machine?   I assume the idea was that, with Cakewalk, I could compose music, play any instrument I wanted, save and playback my creations.  Ideally, I’d upgrade the sound with bigger speakers, and have a hoedown on my MIDI toy.  Whose dream do you suppose that was?  I’ll give you 3 guesses, the first 2 don’t count.  My brother is a born tinkerer, one who soups up cars, stereos, skateboards, even trashcans.  Once he fitted a shoebox to the top of his trashcan so it was at the same height as his bed and he could pitch his Mountain Dew cans and Dorito wrappers with minimal effort. 

His dream, my white elephant.  I’ve tried to sell it on Craigslist, but all I got for the keyboard were offers from the usual Craiglist whackos offering half of what I asked for, pressuring me into selling that night in a back-alley, paying in “genuwine” gems in exchange for my toy.  My $200 (retail) toy, which is now useless to us, as we donated the computer it used to work with when we moved.  I hadn’t played it in months anyway, having cannibalized the mouse from that computer when the optical mouse on our functional computer rolled over and died one day. 

Does anyone want a MIDI input keyboard?  Retail value $200.  Worked perfectly last time it was plugged into the only computer on the planet it’s compatible with.  I’ll even throw in the stool and a free music stand.  And if you act now, I’ll throw in a fresh plate of hot brownies to sweeten the deal.  Please?!?

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