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The Telling Room: Keys of Inspiration

An old piano, if loved and cared for, gives back. As part of our Friday series of essays produced in partnership with the Telling Room in Portland, Meghan Lane reflects on an old friend.

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The Telling Room: Keys of Inspiration Listen

Meghan Lane

This 4-foot 9-inch box of mahogany and wire has been getting to know me since I was nine and tapping out single-note melodies. There is a humble magic steeping in its bones, a resonance fueled by the music we've created over the years. I am not the first to own this instrument; no, there have been eighty years of owners and lovers, countless fingers caressing the keys just as I do. It bears the marks of time; painted letters "CableNelson" are yellowing, a chip of polished mahogany is missing, one leg that had snapped clean off was glued back on, the dark seam like an honorable battle scar.

I respect my piano as I would a teacher; it is a seasoned performer. I am just beginning to learn how to lean and breathe with it. There is a difference between pressing the keys that correspond with the little black notes on the page and turning those notes into an audible emotion. This change from melody to emotion happens to me unexpectedly, but when it does it is the most validating moment in my existence. In that moment, I am no longer myself, but an extension of my instrument, as though it has welcomed me home.

When I'm asked who my favorite composer is I must admit a passion for Chopin, a lust supported by the soft demeanor of my CableNelson. Chopin is not to be played on an unloved instrument; it would be too harsh, too cold and clinical. Chopin should be played on a piano that you greet as an old friend, one that sits comfortably and reminiscences with you. It should be as welcoming as wrapping your hands around a hot mug of tea after coming in from the cold.

I've often heard music described in the abstract, but music is the most physical thing I have. There is nothing more grounding than the feeling of the keys beneath my fingers, nothing more relaxing than a softly pulsing chord, playing again, again, again, meeting the tempo of my heartbeat like a gentle buffer between myself and the bustling outside world.

My bench is no safe haven, though. I must always push myself to be better - for myself, my instrument, and my instructor. Although my practice is intense - indeed, at times brutal - my piano is forgiving; sometimes a wrong note is forgotten, or a tricky measure is smoothed by the grandness of its tone. As co-conspirators my piano and I use rubato (borrowed time) to make it sound like I know the notes, slowing the tempo dramatically while I scramble to rearrange my fingers. Its easy compatibility helps me grasp the nuance in the notes and the communication between musician and instrument.

I aspire to be the kind of person who reflects my instrument's tone: versatile, comfortable, and strong. At times this feels like an unreasonable expectation. Certainly, some days it is. My piano teacher's energy keeps me going when I think I've hit a dead end; my piano's previous owner, Shelley, is an invaluable mentor and inspiration; my family deals with my constant odd hours of practice; my music has built a trusted community that I treasure dearly. I hope that when I am its age, nearly eighty years, I will wear my past as gracefully as it does, and perhaps be able to inspire someone as much as it inspires me.

Meghan Lane is a high school student from Rockport, Maine. She is the winner of The Telling Room's 2012-2013 Statewide Writing Contest in the Prose category, and her story, "Prelude in A Minor," was recently published in Maine Magazine. The Portland-based Telling Room is a non-profit writing center dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. Every Friday this summer we'll share an essay from a student between the ages of six and 18 with a unique perspective on the world.

Photo of author Meghan Lane: courtesy the Telling Room.


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