When I was a kid we had a pianola in our living room.
Dad had bought it when my mother decided that my brother and I should have piano lessons. His logic was that while we were learning to play for real, we could all play by pedalling.
The pianola was pretty cool in its day. It was a big heavy old thing that Dad had found advertised in the newspaper. We drove over to the other side of town one Saturday morning to see it and try it out. At age eight, I could only just reach the pedals by perching on the edge of the seat and stretching my legs out straight. Dad negotiated a good deal with the man who owned the pianola and we went home with the back of the car stacked up with boxes of pianola rolls. The pianola itself arrived in a truck a couple of days later.
My brother and I had to do our daily piano practice on what we christened ‘The Beast’ – scales, scales and more scales – but the pianola really came into its own at parties.
My parents loved to entertain and did so as much as possible. Having that pianola meant that there was no shortage of music and singing in our house. Even the most unmusical person could participate by volunteering to pedal ‘The Beast’. My parents found that this was also a handy method of dealing with anyone who had had too much party cheer. Anyone appearing to be a little the worse for wear was guided to the pianola and instructed to ‘play us a tune‘. It was very effective. All that effort pedalling sobered them up quite quickly.
My Dad loved music and often commented that he wished he could play an instrument. One of his favourite tricks was to open the French doors, sit at the pianola and pedal, allowing the music to float out into the street.
One day a lady stood at our gate listening to him ‘playing’. Eventually she came to the door and told him how beautifully she thought he played. He did not disillusion her by telling her that he had only been pedalling, just thanked her graciously and bade her farewell.
He never forgot the incident, even when he was suffering from dementia in the last years of his life. ‘I was playing Rachmaninov in the key of Z minor,’ he would chuckle. ‘She recognised genius when she heard it.’
Music in the soul can be heard by the Universe.