The year was 1975. I was just starting my Senior year at Auburn University. I was doing well in school. Mary Lou had just transferred to Auburn so we could spend our last year in college together. We had friends and were having fun. Music was a big part of any college student’s life during that time.
That same year Paul Simon’s fourth solo album produced four Top 40 hits. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” made it all the way to the #1 spot. Other notable songs from that album were “Still Crazy After All These Years”, “My Little Town” and “Gone at Last”. My favorite part of the album was the title, Still Playing After All These Years.
I have always had a love for music. I grew up playing sheet music that belonged to my grandmother and great-grandmother. I still have a good bit of that music, some of it over 100 years old.
In addition to being a universal language, music stands the test of time. Classical music can still soothe the soul, hundreds of years after the composer put the notes to paper.
Instruments can often last hundreds of years as well. There are numerous organs that were built centuries ago that can still shake the rafters in some of the old cathedrals of Europe.
Some who know me well are aware that my pride and joy when it comes to music is my Steinway Model A Grand Piano. It was built in 1886, some 133 years ago. It may not be the finest piano in the world now, but it was the finest piano in the world then.
When this piano was delivered to its original owner, Grover Cleveland was in his first term as President and dedicated the Statue of Liberty that same year. Geronimo, the Apache leader, surrendered in Arizona, ending 30 years of fighting. The first Coca-Cola was sold by Dr. John S. Pemberton, a pharmacist and inventor of patent medicines.
Music likely being played on this piano in 1886 included the newly written popular songs “Johnny Get your Gun” by Monroe Rosenfeld and “Semper Fidelis” by John Phillip Souza. 1886 was also the year that Tchaikovsky’s final version of Romeo and Juliet was performed for the first time. It debuted in Tbilisi, Georgia which was then part of the Russian Empire.
This particular piano weighs 695 pounds. It’s rim is made of maple and mahogany. The keys are European Spruce. The length is 6’2” and it is known as the Demure Parlor Grand. It was originally built for homes with a parlor, a room that you will rarely find in homes built in the past 75 years.
When returning to Donalsonville after Hurricane Michael, all I could think about was if the piano had been damaged. It sits in a large bank of bay windows and was totally exposed to the fury of the storm. A large tree was in our pool but its limbs only extended to within one foot of the windows. The Steinway was safe and dry and had survived to be played for hopefully many more years.
When Roger Stephens, who has tuned this particular piano since I bought it, finished tuning the piano today, he played it for a few minutes while I listened. Roger is a very accomplished musician and plays this Steinway in a way I could only do in my dreams. To paraphrase Paul Simon, it was still playing and making beautiful music after all these 133 years.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]