Tuning Up for Christmas

By Esther C. Baird/Tri-Town Transcript columnist
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript December 20, 2013

So we have this piano. It came with our house. Technically, we asked if it could stay, and in a back-saving move, the owner said yes. I’d wanted a piano so that our two daughters could learn to play and read music. Everybody knows that music magically wires children’s brains so that they become musical prodigies, or Nobel prize winners, or the first person to go to Mars. I’d enjoy the fruits of their labor as their mother: the one who made them take piano lessons.
Or, at least they could play in a school recital or two. So for the past three years they’ve moved from painful renditions of Hot Cross Buns to the more melodic, though simple version of, Malaguena. Neither has a future at Julliard at this point, and I’ll probably stick to the fruit I buy at Stop-n-Shop, but the piano has served us well . . . despite being wildly out of tune.
I knew it was pitchy. And sure, the highest E key stuck down, but the girls were beginners. Blue Ears didn’t howl when they played like he does during third grade recorder practice, so I thought things were good.
Until one day when we Skyped with my family in Florida and the girl’s offered to play. My father is an accomplished pianist (those genes shot right past me) and my uncle’s musical talents are a legend up and down the East Coast. So, when the girls began to play, and my family began to cry, “”No! Noooo!! Stop! It’s flat. Agh!!” it was . . . noteworthy.
Was it that bad? Instead of wiring their brains for greatness, had I been wiring them for dismal flatness? I called a tuner. He came and saw our piano.
“Wow. They don’t make these any more. When’s the last time you had it tuned?”
“Well, that’s the thing,” I said. “Never.”
He played around with the keys and found the sticky E. “Seems like this key is hanging up on something metallic. You never noticed that sound before?”
He plunked the key. Plunk, plunk. I stared out the window. Plunk, plunk, plunk. Had I not noticed? Or, had I noticed and simply ignored it? I let him work, and after an hour or so of scales that got progressively better, he called me.
“Do you have a flashlight?”
I brought him one and together, he held back the hammers while I stood over him shining the light onto the mysterious metallic object sitting just beneath the strings . . . easily plonkable. Using a set of pliers he carefully extricated it.
Huh. It was a brass plaque about two inches long, that said “Somerset Club, 1968.” I asked the previous owner about it and he thought it probably came from a swim club in Michigan. Naturally.

Tuned up, and minus the midwestern swim plaque, our lives began to sound much, much better. The girls actually sounded good! Why I had waited so long? Years! We were living in a world of sticky E’s and flat C’s when the real E’s and C’s were out there waiting to be heard.
Was it laziness? Inertia? Or had I grown so used to pitchy flats that they’d become normal to me? Had out of tune become our in tune?
And I realized that our piano was like Christmas. As Regular Readers know, I go a little crazy. I love Christmas. But it’s easy to slip into the pressured, ribboned, glittered rush of it all and think that the frenzy is normal. But it’s not. Like real music, there is a real Christmas that is not about stress and list-making but actually . . . actually . . . about peace.
Casa Baird is no longer settling for a world that is out of tune. This Christmas we are happy to celebrate in a world where the notes are in tune and they ring out over and over, repeat the sounding joy!