A suitably camp candelabra

Tuesday May 17, 2005

When I moved into my first bedsit, some time in the early 1960s, I sighed, packed my sheet music away, and gave my father my blessing to dispose of the tired old upright piano that’d been one of the joys of my life for a long, long time. No room in a bedsit for a piano, you see. So I bought a guitar, took lessons, and slowly but surely my limited amateur skills as a pianist faded away.

That worked pretty well, and I got to thoroughly enjoy playing Bach on my guitar. Then I discovered delta blues, took lessons, and enjoyed that for years and years, too. In recent years, sadly, the arthritis in my hands has made guitar playing too painful to be a pleasure. Some while back, trying to be realistic, I sighed, packed my Fender away, and resigned myself to the end of my amateur music making.

Now, then. Had there been such a thing as today’s digital pianos back in the 1960s, I’d have begged, borrowed and like as not stolen the money to buy one, and continued fumbling through the 48, right to the present day, like as not. You can plug a pair of headphones into a digital piano, too, avoiding another snag of bedsit piano playing. So long as your fingers actually work, playing a piano is not painful.

A digital piano, even one with the capability of sounding like a full-sized concert grand, takes up a lot less room than the smallest upright traditional instrument, and survives perfectly happily even in modern centrally-heated houses. Today, such instruments as the Yamaha Clavinova and the Kawai CP range are affordable, can be positioned anywhere in the house, and are the preferred option for many classical music colleges around the world. More than good enough for me, in other words. And there’s a corner of my study that could easily be turned over to music making.

Leave that aside then, just for the moment.

I’m going through a re-evaluation of the creative side of my life. We grow older, we change, and so long as we have sufficient brain cells in working order, it’s a good survival mechanism to go with the change, keep learning new stuff, and staying on the nice, level plateau of intellectual power that makes for successful retirement and old age.

For the past sixteen years, going on seventeen, I’ve been more than happy with writing, especially with writing poetry. I don’t think that’s going to last much longer.

It’s an observed phenomenon that some poets go on writing wonderful poems right into a really advanced age. Just look at Stanley Kunitz for a glowing example. Other poets simply dry up when they get older. Oh, the craft is there, and now and then a spark is kindled, but there simply isn’t enough material left to keep producing poems. I have a distinct feeling that I’m going to fall into the second category. I still love writing of course. I work at it every day, and I’m still learning. But, unless I discover some fiction button in me, and in the absence of the poetry, it’s not enough to satisfy my needs for creative activities. And without creative activity I might just as well fold my hands, turn on the TV, and wait meekly for God to find me some useful to do in the fertilizer business.

I recently returned to painting and drawing as an outlet and that’s worked enormously well. I plan to continue with it. It just doesn’t seem to be enough, though. That’s doubtless, now I come to think of it, the reason why over the years I’ve dabbled, discontinued, started over, and generally flirted with painting. It’s something I love to do but… it isn’t enough.

I’m getting there. Not absolutely sure where I’m going with this, but bear with me…

When the house sells, and it begins to look that this one will indeed sell in the not too distant future, it’s likely that, as in the past, Graham will say something along the lines of: “What shall we get you as a moving house present, then?” Indeed, we’ve anticipated this and have already discussed various options, including an advanced new camera, and a good quality laptop computer.

The laptop I’m not at all sure about. I’m very happy with my present computer, and with my use of it. It’s getting on towards two years old now and is still bearing up incredibly well. A laptop as either a replacement or an extension doesn’t greatly appeal to me.

A more advanced camera, specifically a Leica digital SLR, appeals rather more. Apart from a gratifying leap in lens quality, though, and pride of ownership, it wouldn’t give me anything I don’t already have in my Fuji camera. And I’m not sure I would want to pretend that either advantage is worth a heap of cash to me. Especially when I consider that the pictures I’ve made over the past year of so that’ve pleased me most have been taken with my silly little cheap-o pencam. When it comes to making pictures, it’s the photographers eye that matters, not the camera.

So, when Graham returned from Somerset clutching a brochure for the Kawai CP95 digital piano, I was ripe for the plucking, as it were.

Over the years, I’ve dallied with the thought of picking up my skills as a pianist once more, getting a new copy of the Bach pieces I love so much and which any musically inclined person may easily spend a lifetime exploring, and buying a digital piano for my quiet, personal enjoyment and enrichment. I’ve several times visited music stores where they have rows of digital pianos for sale and where, if you’re quick, you can get five minutes to sit down, try the keyboard, and fumble out a few bars of the residual memories of Bach that remain in your fingers no matter how long it may be since you stopped playing regularly.

You know that five minutes? That’s the five minutes you get before some flash git of a salesman shoves you aside to demonstrate his electronically-enhanced ability to make a digital piano sound like an ensemble of gel-haired piano bar musicians playing something that’s quite like music but not entirely so. All in the interests of showing you what the instrument can do, of course. You can protest that you really don’t want an orchestra and that all you’re after is a piano until you’re blue in the face, makes no difference to these dedicated salespersons.

Anyway. Back to my thread.

I’m coming round to the thought that I’d really like a digital piano. I really fancy the idea of reviving my skills and spending two or three hours a day exploring Bach once more. And Mozart. And Haydn. And perhaps a little Beethoven, too, just so long as I can resist re-learning the dripping triplets sonata. And, last time I had a piano to myself for a while, I just managed to touch on the very edge of blues piano. That’s a tantalizing thought.

Now that I don’t write poetry, I have a handful of hours to spare each and every day and, to my dismay, I find they’re filling up with endless games of computer patience. I really need to do something about that.

So, sometime in the future, I’m going to be sitting down at a piano again for the first time in almost fifty years. Most likely a Yamaha Clavinova, one of the advanced models with weighted and graduated touch-sensitive keys. That’ll keep me happy for a good while. It’ll be a challenge, too, finding some interesting way to write about the world of the amateur music maker. I wonder if I could find a suitably camp candelabra on eBay?



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