Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My piano

Recently a friend, Cole Hallman, asked if he could come out with a mutual friend, Cecil Eastman, and record Cecil playing my grand piano.  They came, and they did.  Cecil did my old piano proud.   Here is a link to the result of their work.  Cecil playing Moonlight Sonata

Today Cole asked me for more information about the piano, which so far as I know was built in 1913.  I can't tell him a whole lot about its history until it came into my life about 50 years ago.  In recounting to him what I knew of the piano, I realized it was a rather nice story to go with Cecil's beautiful rendition of Moonlight Sonata. Here is the story of me and my Behning.

I bought the piano in about 1963, from an older farm couple who lived near us.   At that time, I resided on a farm near McNabb, Illinois.  I taught piano lessons.  Most of my students took lessons on an old Ivers & Pond upright that was my mother-in-law's.  When they "graduated" to more difficult music, they were allowed to play the Behning grand.

The man who tuned it for me was quite old.  He had played in theatres when the movies were silent, and he played appropriate music while the film rolled.  When he was done tuning, he always entertained me with tunes from the past for about an hour.  His name was Mr. Schaefer, and he lived in Streator, Illinois.

In or around 1980, I was watching a show about Liberace, and it was mentioned that he had learned to play on a Behning.  I wrote to him, asking if he would be interested in buying my piano.  Somewhere in my files is the letter I received from his brother George stating that they were not interested in buying it, but I could get a tax write-off by giving it to their piano museum.  So that's how they do it!  I guess if we had been in a high enough tax bracket, our tax savings would have allowed me to buy a new piano, but I passed.  I'm very glad I did.

The piano has moved with me 11 times.  It stayed in storage a couple of times.  But for the most part, it has been with me as a faithful companion since I bought it.  We had to tear out several stairs to get it into one upstairs apartment, since there was a closet that jutted into the stairwell.  The movers got halfway up the 20 steps and had to take it back down.  A carpenter removed the stairs and risers from about four steps, and the movers dipped the piano into the hole that was left, walking on the small boards that had held the risers and steps.  When all was done, one of the movers said to me, "When you move again, don't call us!"  Three years later, when I moved yet again, he burst into the apartment and said, while shaking a finger at me, "I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU NOT TO CALL US!"  We all had a good laugh about it.  This time, I had the carpenter on hand, so it went a bit slicker.

I thought it was over 100 years old many years ago, but one piano tuner pointed out to me that it was built (if I remember correctly) in 1913.  I'm sure he found that from some stamp or serial number somewhere in the piano, but I would have to search to find it.   If he was right, it will be 100 years old next year. 

The Behning company was in business until the latter half of the 20th century, so it might still be possible to track down more information on this particular piano.  Sounds like a good project for a long winter day.


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