The Green Room Piano

Growing up in the Olson household, playing the piano was just something you did—kinda like breathing or eating.  There were four of us—two older sisters, then me (four years later), and then my brother, the caboose (six years later).  When I was a kid, we had one piano—an upright that my mom had stained a dark, blackish green color (this was the 70s, people).  We took turns practicing—a couple of us in the morning before school and a couple in the afternoon.  My mom oversaw our practicing—even though she could only barely play herself—sometimes sitting next to us to help us count out a rhythm or telling us that we were playing a note incorrectly.

And then, all of the sudden (in my mind), we had two.  The old green upright and a sleek black baby grand.  I guess I was about 12 when we got it, so I wasn’t privy to the back story of how we ended up with the nice new piano.  All I knew was that it was mine to enjoy.  I thought I was quite the little pianist—even thinking I was going to be a concert pianist when I grew up.  (I clearly was not good enough to be a concert pianist, but was unfazed by that reality.)  I played that piano hard and loved it and hated it.  Whenever I’d had a bad day, I’d come home from my after school job and hammer out some Liszt or Rachmaninoff or maybe butcher a beautiful Chopin scherzo or a Mozart nocturne.  That piano bore the brunt of my adolescent angst.  It was there for me when I broke up with a boyfriend (umm, I mean, when my boyfriend broke up with me); it was there for me when I fought with my parents (although that didn’t occur too often); it was there for me when my piano teacher—God love her—left without speaking to me after my 16-year-old concerto debut because I had flubbed a run that we’d worked on really hard, for months.

I graduated from high school and went away to BYU, thinking I would major in piano performance.  I decided—after a month of practicing several hours a day—that if I were going to continue to love playing the piano, I’d better change majors.  That ended my 13~ year run of piano lessons, but I have continued to play the piano—for fun, for relaxation, and for countless church activities.

Then I got married and had a few kids.  So did my three siblings.  Every semester, my mom emails us to ask how much the kids’ music lessons cost and then she writes us a check from her retirement account.  I don’t know how much the total ends up being, but it must be a pretty penny because there are now 17 grandchildren (most of whom take music lessons).  A number of years ago, when she first offered, we all tried to refuse, but my mom wouldn’t hear of it—my grandmother had done it for us—a little tidbit I don’t recall ever knowing.  Music was very important to my grandma, who taught piano lessons and played the piano and organ for everything at church. 

Fast forward to this spring, when my mom sent my sibs and me an email saying that she wanted to pass the baby grand piano along to one of us.  It was a beautiful instrument, she told us, and it was only being played once or twice a month when a grandkid stopped by her house and happened to play something.  None of us knew how to respond.  We would all enjoy and appreciate it, but no one wanted to bicker over it.  And no one knew how to decide who would get it.

My mom also explained to us that she’d had it appraised, so she had an idea of how much it was worth, but that its worth was much more than financial to her.  I learned for the first time how that piano came to be ours.  My mom explained that while my dad was in the midst of cancer treatment, they decided that we should have an excellent instrument NOW, because nothing is forever.  She swallowed her pride a bit and asked her mother to help them pay for it.  My grandmother happily obliged—just as my mother happily writes a check every semester to subsidize her grandchildren’s music education.

After some behind-the-scenes discussions, it was decided that the piano would get moved to our house, and our piano (which my family also loves) would get moved to my parents’ house.  I feel sheepish about it.  I’m counting on my siblings to be honest when they say they’re good with it living at our house—even though all of us dragged our feet for a while, feeling like the piano just belonged at our parents’ house—in “the green room” (dubbed thus because the original carpet in that room was lime green.  Remember I said this was the 70s.). 

On Sunday, eleven of my parents’ grandchildren gathered at our house for one last recital with the piano in my parents’ house, in the green room, where it’s been for nearly 30 years.  Nine of the grandchildren played a solo and I played a duet with Kennedy.  It was a busy affair, with all those tow-headed cousins running around, jostling and giggling and whispering amongst themselves.

I feel like I’m taking a piece of our family without really having earned it.  But I promise to remember the back story of how it ended up in our family—thanks to my grandma’s generosity and my parents’ desire to savor life now, since nothing is forever.

So thanks, Mom and Dad (if you’re reading), and grandma, who’s no longer with us.