My Piano… by Starr Parodi
How do I start writing about one of the most profound relationships in my life – my piano?? hmmm, I’m kind of hungry, I better go make a piece of toast, oh – now i’m finding myself in the kitchen, better put some stuff away & start the dishwasher…as I walk past my sweet dog, he is just sitting there looking longingly at his empty dish, (his face is SO cute) I should really make him some more food, oops, i just heard the chirp of an e-mail coming in – better check it. Now that i’m sitting at my computer, I wonder how the presidential race is going…did anyone say anything crazy today – just a quick peek…
Does this sound familiar to anyone??
The more deeply meaningful something is in one’s life, the easier it is to thrust it to the back and do all the little stuff – that constant stream of “stuff” that happens every day. Much simpler to do that first. It’s kind of like being at a party and not talking with your best friend who is standing right next to you, because you know you can always speak to them any day, better to chat aimlessly with strangers…
Ok… so here i go. Each day I walk down the 34 steps from my home to my studio where my 1928 Steinway B lives. Unlike me, who has been known to go outside without the appropriate amount of sunscreen protecting my face, my piano sits in a room that never changes temperature. There is a faint hum of a three tank humidifier which is on at all times (except when recording!) to keep just the right amount of moisture in the air so that the dehydrating Santa Ana winds won’t make it’s soundboard crack. The windows of my studio look out onto a graceful canyon full of sycamore trees and the ocean beyond. I am conscious of the stirring view that is there for me if I choose to look at it, but I keep the sun shades drawn to prevent the sun from baking my piano. I sit down on my black cushioned piano bench in this dark, warm space and am enveloped in a womb of creative possibilities. If I choose to run my hands along the wood under the bottom of the keyboard (I do this sometimes when I am thinking), I will feel little bumps of shellacked over gum protruding – I am imagining they are from all the studio musicians and composers that played this piano when it resided on the MGM Sound Stage in the late 1920’s, 30’s and probably 40’s. Maybe Gershwin? Arlen? Astaire?? It still bears the MGM tag on one of the legs and I was told that the score to the Wizard of Oz was recorded on this piano. I can only imagine whose gum that it might be underneath so I will never remove it! NEVER!
I am ready to practice… there is a difference between practicing and playing, at least for me. Practicing is a time i carve out for myself to do massively fast finger calisthenics and muscle building in my hands. Lots for my intellect to do too – I’m thinking about scales, and the relationship of one note to the next, to the key, to the chord. How cool it sounds to play the melodic minor scale a half step up from the root of the dominant altered chord that you want to improvise over. That scale and chord combo has all the interesting notes in it! I think I’ll do that exercise in every key as part of my practice today. Why does my little pinky finger feel weaker than my others? I diligently go through the routine of my finger exercises that I learned from my favorite teacher so many years ago. We would literally sit at 2 grand pianos together and have a race up and down the keys from the bottom note to the very top one (Which happens to be a C). Doing finger exercises is kind of like going to the gym… you don’t really want to go but you feel so good afterwards. Then, I bend forward and rest my forehead on the top of the piano – I just let my arms dangle freely and feel the tingling sensation flow into my hands and fingers.
Now I am ready to play – I stop thinking.
Pianos LET you play them and the myriad of different feels of the keys and sounds emanating out of the many types of pianos, beckon an artist to play in as many different ways. Sometimes, you settle into familiar ways of comfort and ease, like sinking into a familiar cozy chair, and other times it is like jumping onto a spirited race horse guiding you into provocative, stimulating territory. Each piano has a distinct personality – because the wood from which the soundboard is made was once alive.
Sitting at the piano is looking in a mirror – a genuine reflection without a filter of how I am really feeling, what’s really going on. I am my most free and unbridled when I am playing, and also the most judgmental and guess what – the person i most judge is … me. Wait! I need to let that thought go. Stop!! Breathe.. Play… I find that if I empty out my mind and just breathe and put my hands down on the keys, music starts coming through me, images come to my mind. This is the most honest place I know of. I pray a lot when i am playing, for my family, for my friends, the world, but the sequence of words and thoughts running through my head flows with the music and has no specific beginning or ending. It doesn’t start with “Dear God” or end with Amen… it is like one big long run on sentence that mixes words and music together.
Things become clear when I am sitting here playing my piano and I feel connected.
I feel like everything will be ok.