Monday, May 2

Welcome, Babe

I have been in a relatively blog-free zone recently, not due to getting tired of blogging, but getting tired from intense physical work every day and not having the energy to sit down and think up something to say. Physical work can take a toll; mental work can take even more.

We have been working to prepare a space for the baby, not Ben our grandchild, but Babe, our new piano.

If we were normal people and like most buyers of a new grand piano, we would simply re-arrange some furniture and call the delivery guys. Being far from normal, we had to smooth out a little over three miles of unpaved road (our driveway) that had taken a beating from a whole winter’s worth of near-record rainfall. We trimmed trees to allow the delivery truck to come in without getting scarred. And not only did we have to move some furniture, we had to prepare a whole space to make it suitable for a fine instrument. Luke and Hilary had built a structure on a concrete foundation that Karla and I had made many years ago with the intention of putting a studio space on it. It’s a nice little building, sturdy and heavily insulated with its thick walls and stout roof. But not yet finished inside.

Nice pianos just don’t fit in with rough concrete floors, so we installed hardwood flooring with resilient cork underlayment. Pianos don’t sound their best unless the ceiling is bathed in acoustic tile. And I am guessing, but they most likely don’t like unpainted walls—too much of a contrast with their burnished ebony finish. A vacant opening should be filled with a nice door. A simple chandelier might make it feel more at home too.

So we did all that, and it’s been non-stop since April 10, what with trips to the lumber and door company, the flooring company, the acoustic ceiling tile company. The paint company, the nails and hinges and doors and trim and tools and miscellaneous stuff companies all made their contributions. A new paint sprayer came without an instruction manual, so the Internet download company did its part too.

I wish I could have connected with the brains company to help me figure out how to set my saw to cut the angles necessary to put in a ceiling cove to fit not just two 45° angles at the corners, but the additional 12° on the low side and minus 12° on the high side of a sloped ceiling with cove strips that themselves are odd to start with—I cut every possible angle on several pieces till I got it right and that’s for only two of the corners. I spent hours. I must be smooth-brained. Maybe I’ll just butt the other pieces together at the corners and fill in with modeling clay.

I now have massive respect for painters. Without the experience, it’s hard to know if your paint is too thick or your nozzle in the spray head is too large or too small. It’s hard to believe that a ceiling that measures 10-1/2 feet one way and 13 the other can soak up a whole gallon of paint! But it did, three times! We used the wrong paint to begin with. Dark, moody, semi-gloss, interesting. But we decided it should be lighter, so we bought another gallon of flat finish. Using a sprayer that made me stand on a ladder to reach the ceiling, I got the coverage very uneven. Used a whole gallon. We went to the paint store for another gallon and a sprayer that had an extension wand. Much better now—I could see from floor level that the paint went on evenly. But I used too big a nozzle so there went another gallon! We ended up with a nice ceiling in spite of my goofs.

Building and installing a whole frame for a door is something else! The last time I did that was several decades ago. Since that time, I have bought and installed whole door systems—the door with all the hardware installed in a frame that you simply plug into your space. Just add a latch mechanism. But doing it à la carte! The hinges have to be inset flush, using a router and/or chisels, the holes must be drilled for the doorknob hardware, all that stuff. It took me a long time fiddling and trying to remember how, but it came out right. And oh yeah, the staining and finishing of the raw wooden door. The solid alder door we bought because it was beautiful is also heavy heavy! Gad. Then there’s the trim. Hammering away at finish nails is not my forte. Being ambidextrous, I can use a hammer with either hand, equally badly. Lotsa divots.

The piano is now in its temporary home. For its permanent space, we’re going to make a dedicated room in our new house to be built a mile down the road, with temperature and humidity control and all that stuff. The inner mechanisms of fine pianos are made from several kinds of wood, all unvarnished, which means they will absorb and emit moisture, and flex when the temperature changes. The hammers are made with fine Merino wool felt so you have to keep moths away. The bass strings are wrapped with pure copper so don’t let them corrode. Hummingbird tongues and hens’ teeth round out the list of exotic materials employed.

Periodic tuning and regulating and balancing are needed. Even the outer ebony-black finish should only be cleaned with knitted cotton that’s dampened with water. Never use furniture polish or wax. And you wipe with the grain, not across. If the inside of the piano gets dust and junk in it, call a professional piano cleaner. Fussy, fussy. But the feeling of playing on such a fine instrument is unsurpassed. The sound reaches out, soaks into and encompasses your soul—you become part of its acoustic aura. There simply is nothing else like it.

A little booklet that came with the piano welcomes us to the Steinway family. We welcome Babe to ours.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Congratulations on the safe arrival and careful installation of Babe. I was going to send Pixie dust to help you celebrate but don't wanna mess up the innards none.

(Glad to know you are enjoying such a fine instrument at last. xx)