Lucille: The American Experience Through The Eyes of The Piano

Lucille, the 1865-1866 Steinway Square Grand 

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You could say that I wear my heart on my sleeve. What you see and hear is what you get. That’s me, Lucille.  My owner, Molly had an ear for tuning; her ears being quite large at that too. I sometimes thought she could hear me thinking, which is odd seeing that I am a piano and she a human.  Molly seemed to be insecure about her ears except when around me.  I would overhear Molly telling her sister, Betty, that she could hear Cyril’s war letters being written days before they arrived on her doorstep.  I doubt her ears were ever that dexterous, but they did save my life.

I was an orphan when I arrived at Cyril and Molly’s humble abode and I could swear Molly heard my cries from the dusty basement where my previous owners held me captive. Once the Civil War commenced, the previous old and stale owners forgot about me, so I have erased them from my mind. I’m a piano, I can do that. It was unfortunate though and their loss, because I am a diamond in the ruff. I have a full 88 keys while most of my friends have only 85 keys. And, I am most certainly all legs If I do say so myself…I mean, look at my cabriole curves of the Victorian era…I also have to mention my unique Steinway patented innovation of “Overstrung Bass Strings” to allow for greater length of my strings. I am not humble.

That’s when Cyril and Molly rescued me. Cyril was leaving to war and wanted to make sure Molly had an outlet for her emotions. You see, the whole large ear thing, Molly didn’t leave the house much. She often got ridiculed and this worried Cyril. If she couldn’t exercise her ears through listening to him, he felt it necessary to leave me to handle the situation. I was A-ok with that.

Instead of restoring me when I arrived in my new home, Molly and Cyril decided to conserve me. Molly told Cyril I sounded musical and in tune with myself already. I mentioned, I am a gem, right? Anyways, those ears always seemed to make the decisions in the household, to which I couldn’t argue because those ears are the reason my true voice is revealed.  So they conserved me, retaining all my parts, strings, keys, ivories and hammer-felts leaving me as bionic as could be. There may be traces of wear and tear in my voice, but Cyril always referred to that as, life’s trials and tribulations weighing in. Molly called this, fatigue. Similar to how Picasso went though his blue period and Jung suffered and persevered through a depression, my voice goes off into the darkness that lies within my past basement captivity days. Don’t let this fool you though; I’m not tired or sad. I am told we are all the sum of our experiences. We’ll just call it character….

Anyways, I am here to tell a tale of the Civil War. This tale requires you to be all ears, like Molly, and listen.

Disclaimer: You’ll need your eyes too.

7. 1865 Civil War Steinway

A Glimpse into the Civil War Through the Eyes of a (beautiful) Piano

A pervasive sound of loss and longing is played by Molly. It circulates through my lungs, or soundboard, and out into the room.  The sound comes from all over my frame or chest. A lower key comes from my left side, and a higher key comes from the right. You can chase each note, running back and forth. It’s enough to give your head and body a full musical experience. Molly puts her hair up in a bun as she plays. No one ever has direct sight of her big ears like I do.

I suppose I should explain the melancholic sounds of loss and longing filling the air. The Civil War is happening. Cyril is off in battle. Molly channels her sadness through me and doesn’t leave the house much. Her favorite piece to play is the Ashokan Farwell. Molly cries after she plays me sometimes.

 

A letter from Cyril arrived in the mail yesterday. Molly read it out loud as if she knew I could hear her.

 

9/14/1862

Dear Molly,

 General McClellan is preparing for battle with the Confederates, I have supreme faith the Union will prevail.  I am well and in fair spirits. Although I am tired, every moment is worth it. I miss you and your company. I hope you are enjoying the Steinway.  I look forward to hearing the music fill the acoustics of our house and being with you once again. I know you can hear me as I say goodnight.

 Cheers Big Ears,

 Cyril

 

This letter left both Molly and me filled with terror. I am a piano, what do I know? Well, I have a sixth sense. You see, music tells of the past, present and future. The war will not be ended until bloody massacre has occurred. I feel as though I might not have the opportunity to see Cyril again. His memory will only be shared by tales played on my keys. If this is my purpose then I shall live true to it. Just as the styles of pianos are changing so are the laws and ways of the people in America today.

Over the next couple of days Molly laid on the floor with her hands muffled over her ears. The attack of Antietam was occurring. I couldn’t hear it, but Molly could with her ears. She heard the sound of 20 thousand deaths.

What did this experience feel like for me over those few days? I felt weak at times, overwhelmed by the sadness. I was gasping for breath with the dust collecting on my strings and my keys beginning to stick to my frame. Molly places a black shawl to protect me on days where she has less hope. My pink shawl is used when we have guests or receive letters with good news. As Molly heard the sound of many deaths, the only shawl I saw was the black one.

I had to keep in mind my role. It is to share music and transport people, especially Molly, to places that reflect memories and reveal hope. The meaning of death and dying is significant these days as Molly and I would soon find out…..

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Part II

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The obligation of the living to care for the dead became evident on the day of 9/18/1862 when Molly received the last letter from Cyril. The aura is dark this day, the windows are closed and the grieving begins…

9/18/1862

 Dear Molly,

 I have been wounded among the thousands during the Antietam attack. It was the bloodiest day I hope America will ever have to see. There was an atrocious madness in my fellow soldiers’ eyes I have never seen before. I replay the sounds of music in my head for solace. I think of the sounds from the first day I met you, I hear the sound of war tunes, and I hear the sounds of the future, the sounds of freedom. I am dying a good death, it is for the freedom of man, and for that fact alone I can rest in peace. One day we will be reunited…until then, remember me through the piano when you are lonely.

 Cheers Big Ears,

 Cyril

 

The music stopped, the house went silent, the noise white.

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If was as if Molly heard President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation with her large ears. On January 1st. 1863 Molly began playing pieces filled with life. Music was medicine again!

Molly opens the windows and rids the house of my black shawl. I am no longer cold. I feel the upper outward curves of my legs showing without a coating of dust.

There is still a somber nature in the air. But Molly is alive again, and therefore, I am alive to share stories again. I am revived with the hope of redefining this country with one song at a time.

 Part III

That’s a piece my tale.

That’s a piece of my song.

That’s my American Piano Experience.

~Lucille, The 1865-66 Steinway Grand

6. 1865 Civil War Steinway detail

 

Written by: Vicki Thompson

3 thoughts on “Lucille: The American Experience Through The Eyes of The Piano

  1. Surely music is the highest form of art and the piano its leading proponent. Yes, instruments have personalities. Ask any performer. Each will tell you of their preferences, preferences that the layperson might not be able to discern.
    Vicki, this article personifying an instrument brings to life what we would believe to be an inanimate object and is a beautiful way to understand the importance of its relationship within its time period, whether it be a penny whistle or any orchestral instrument.

    Like

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