Most people and inanimate objects cannot remember much prior to about 3 years of age. But I can remember it all, way before the beginning. That’s impressive considering I am almost 200 years old. They call me Benjamin, and I must say that although I am referred to as an inanimate object, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’ll have you know that, we are all very animate and have spirits of our own.
I can remember back to when I had been part of a rosemary tree. Chopped up, I sat for 2 years seasoning in the weather. I learned from a young age how hard life is enduring the seasons changing without a blanket or shelter. After that I felt I earned a vacation for the next chapter of my life where I spent it in a dry house. I felt as though I was on the equator in the Bahamas roasting away. These were the earliest memories of my life. My most captivating memories lie within my journey to the West Coast.
That’s, me! My selfie.
Let me step back for a few details; After I was considered to be bone-dry, I had my growth spurt. Humans have their growth spurts during puberty. Pianos have their growth spurt at an early age. It’s just easier to get it out of way in my opinion. I had my growth spurt in my assemblage birthplace of NY, NY, in 1835 at the Nuns & Clarks factory. I am known for being a transition piano. I was one of the first to have metal included in my hitch pin and iron strut to support my wrest plank (Just a fun fact I like to share about my self and my construction, like when humans feel the need to tell that they were the youngest or oldest of the grade school class….) Afterwards, I was immediately blindfolded. What felt like a straight jacket was wrapped around me. This is what I heard to be called “shrink wrapped.” All I heard with this shrink wrapping on me was voices surrounding me as I got hauled into an empty train’s carrier.
Next stop: Missouri. Missouri was warm. My folks were friendly and they played the most fun and entertaining music. I always brought people together. They would admire my new posh look, jumping from the old Victorian style pianos with so much “to-do” on them. I thought they looked like they were trying too hard, very gaudy looking. I’ve always been a fan of simplicity.
Mr. and Mrs. Alton Long were my owners names. Mr. Alton owned the Davies County Savings Association. He decided that he wanted to share me with the public coming in and out of the office to help society to return to the normalcy it had craved after the war. I was perfectly fine with that. He hired a local pianist to play me during the day, and a piano tuner to clean me during the night. I slept with my beautiful shawl from Barcelona on. It was a copacetic,almost too good to be true time. Sometimes Mr. and Mrs. Alton would host late night employee only parties. These nights were carefree. People would admire my presence and play me like they were running a marathon.
Unfortunately, this was the time of Jessie James robbing places and killing people. It was when America was trying to settle the dust and friction in the air between the North and South from the Civil War. Jessie James had been hyped up in the papers. People would read the articles out loud while gathered around me, discuss them and then play tunes on me to remind them of happiness. Mr. Alton never believed what the papers had to say about Jessie James being an honest man working to help, not harm the people of the South. He always knew Jessie James had malicious intentions. He would laugh and ridicule these articles and then play light hearted music on me.
One night, Mr. and Mrs. Alton were hosting a Halloween party, extending the invitation to all of the employees of the Davis Savings Association. This night was one of the best I can remember up until midnight stuck. Everyone was laughing and dancing as if there was not a care in the world. Moments like this in life are rare and too few and far in-between. The weight of the world can be immense and onerous at times, even for a piano. Playing songs only of cheer sprung life into the air. Oh music…
Masked in costumes like the rest of the party, entered Jessie James, his brother Frank and 50 other men. They were all dressed in Robin Hood costumes, can you believe that? So much for ambiguity. About 20 of the professed Robinhoods picked me up after unmentionable bloodshed occurred. I still cannot speak of it to this day. I get too sad when thinking of all the good and kind people left there that night, especially Mr. and Mrs. Alton. The Robinhoods were chattering about how heavy I was and how much money and publicity I would be getting Jessie. I didn’t care to hear any more. The occasional tree they ran me into and pinching of my keys when they were carrying me put me in a coma like state.
I woke up in a train carrier. There were lights, beer and, to my surprise, another piano. As the robinhoods unmasked themselves, they shot guns in the air though the train carriers doors as a signal to move forward. Apparently it was time for a piano duel between myself and this no-name piano for the train ride to California. Here is where I stop calling the Robinhoods such and begin calling them criminals. I rode in that train carrier with over 30 drunken criminals and two captive pianists. These 2 poor musical pianist souls were captured purely for the entertainment of the train ride to California. Undoubtedly they were to be killed upon arrival. My future wasn’t clear at this point either, as far as I knew I could be future firewood. I don’t imagine the Californians knowing what to do with a piano! I had to shift perspective…If I was going to live or die, I would win what could possibly be my last piano duel!
A photo of the Train Cart we were crammed into
Down the duel went! We traded off tunes like Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Sonata No. 2,” no easy triumph I must say! Next, the no-name piano would play “De Falla Ritual Dance” from ‘El Amor Brujo’.
I haven’t been played like that in my whole life. The aggression, the passion, the energy of the criminals combined with the pianists hope for life by winning the piano duel. Whoever was in the other corner certainly had a different sound than me. She sounded to be of an earlier decade with the cascading pitches. She kept a clear and concise tone the entire train ride, I’ll give her that. My strings were getting splattered with the beer from the criminals mugs in the cart. It was ok though, while we were both playing for our lives, I still had a stronger presence.
At the end of the journey of a few days and nights, I was announced the winner after playing “My Old Kentucky Home.”
It was simple but brought up true emotion to the drunken southern criminals. I, the good old, sleek and slim Nuns & Clark had won the battle. I knew I had it in me. The train ride ended and I approached my supposed final destination. A man named Henry picked me up, paid the criminals $200 cash and I was placed into a truck and brought to his farm.
The people of California reacted strangely towards me. I was a foreign object, they even changed my name to Sunny. How unoriginal? Just because it’s sunny in California, doesn’t mean that should be my name. I changed back to Benjamin as soon as I got back in NY. People were so curious around me in California and not many people could play a solid tune on me for about 10 years until some experienced pianists made their way to California with Manifest Destiny in mind. It was rough, but comfortable I suppose.
If you are concerned or feeling doleful about the other piano, I’ll share something that will lift your spirits if you think the no-namer became ashes. The other piano, she was loaded onto the truck behind me and we ended up at the same location. I learned her name, learned all about her, and she eventually became my piano wife. She was a beautiful 1824-1826 Wm. Gieb Square Piano who is named Ophelia.
And now Ophelia (pictured above) and I reside here in the Piano Performance Museum in Hunter, NY.
It’s a long story of the journey from California to Hunter, NY, best to save for another day. But we love our home here. I feel my sound is kept safe. I am warm and get attention, but could always use more 😉