11 Feb

It’s ten o’clock in the morning on a frigid Monday and I’m being lulled by the dulcet tones of my piano tuner man, hard at work in the living room. Such a lovely melody.

BANG! THUMP! TWEEK! BANG! Any little boy would be reprimanded for playing so badly.

I remember the tuning our piano got when we lived in West Berlin. We had some family friends come for Christmas, and we asked him to bring his piano-tuning kit. They lived in Saudi Arabia so it wasn’t a terribly long trip or a big deal to bring his tools – at least I don’t think it was!

He began tuning on a Sunday afternoon. BANG! THUMP! TWEEK! BANG!

The telephone rang.

It was our downstairs neighbor. We lived in an apartment building that had four two-story apartments in it so we only had three neighbors…and the one below us was MAD.

Ding-a-ling-a-ling! (Actually it sounded more like “buzz”…German phones sounded different than American phones!)

“Hello?” said my mother.

“Do you have a child visiting?” the down-stairs neighbor asked in English.

“Yes,” Mom replied, puzzled.

“Well, could you please ask him to cease banging on the piano? It is rest time in Germany. Sunday afternoons are rest time. Please stop him from banging.”*

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Mom replied, amused but controlling her laughter. “The boy is not banging on the piano. It is being tuned by his father.”

There was a silence on the other end while our neighbor – an artistically-minded individual – recovered her embarrassment and said, “Entschuldigung. I am so sorry.”

“And I,” said my mother, “apologize for interrupting your rest time. We should have realized.”

“Yes,” said the woman. “You should have. But it is okay.”

She might not have actually said those exact words. But she implied them.

I can’t help but smile at the memory.

When I was a kid, back on Orcas Island, our piano tuner was blind. This amazed and impressed me. My tuner down in the living room tells me that is becoming more and more common.

Six or seven years ago I began praying for a free piano. I’ve always labored under the impression that God cares about every part of my life, so why not? I didn’t ask for a new piano. I didn’t ask for a good piano. I just wanted something that my daughter could take piano lessons with. Something that would get her through a few years and that I, too, could play on from time to time if I could remember anything of my seven years of servitude torture lessons.

Not too long after I began praying, I got a piano. Free. From a friend, who had gotten it from a friend, who had gotten it who-knows-where. It’s an old upright. About 100 years old. Has a few keys that stick, and the bottom few bass notes ring in a strange way from an imperfect “fix” at some point in its life.

I put it on an inside wall, ‘cause I remembered that I’d heard at some point that that’s where pianos ought to go. For 3 ½ years my daughter took lessons on that old piano. I played it a couple times. Should do so more. Every so often over the years my daughter would say, “Can you get the piano tuned, Mom?”

And I’d say, “Yeah, sure. I can arrange that.”

And then I’d promptly forget all about it.

Well, about a month ago she came up to me – a nice smile on her face – and she said, “Mom? I know what I want for my birthday.”

“Oh?” I asked her, not wanting to admit to the fact that her birthday was approaching and I had no clue what to get her. “What?”

“I want the piano to be tuned.”


So I texted her piano teacher and asked for the name of her tuner. I called him…and he came a few days later. HORRAY!

When my daughter got home from school that day her little sister, Boo, (who had been home sick so she knew it had been tuned) suggested that Meep sit down and practice piano right away. (In her mind she wasn’t giving away the secret, just nudging her sister toward discovery.)

Meep sat down to play. She played through her favorite piece. There were no fireworks, no bright-eyed epiphanies (I love that word) but she did seem to play a little more carefully…and, just maybe, a small smile played about her lips. Then Boo said, “It got tuned!”

And Meep’s face lit up like Santa Claus had come and she jumped up and said, “Thank you, Mom!” And then she practiced longer than she ever had before in her life.

Our tuner, a friendly and talkative gray-haired gentleman, told me that he doubted it had been tuned more than once or twice in its life. He said something like, “Normally each key has to be moved about 10 degrees [I don’t know if the term he used was “degrees”, but it was something like that] but this one had to be moved 50!” Obviously, even to a piano-term-dense novice like me, even if I don’t remember his terms, I do recognize that 50 is a lot more than 10!

So now Meep is happy and she’s playing the piano even more beautifully than before and, $75 dollars later, I’m feeling good about it, too.

*There was one other time that she called us on a Sunday afternoon during rest time. I was hanging a picture and pounding a nail into the wall. “Hello?” “Hello. Do you hear a banging?” “No,” I replied honestly, looking at the hammer in my hand. “I do not hear a banging right now.” She was a martinet. An extremely nice martinet…except during rest time.


14 Responses to “BANG! THUMP! TWEEK!”

  1. Beth Ann February 11, 2014 at 7:32 am #

    Great post, Gretchen! I am not a pianist but the hubby is and a properly tuned piano is a must to him. He can tell if it is out of kilter in a heartbeat! Love that your daughter is taking up the piano. I wish I had stuck with it. 🙂

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 18, 2014 at 8:49 am #

      I wish I’d done more with it too. It’s been months since I’ve sat down at the piano and that’s just silly.

  2. Doreen February 11, 2014 at 8:27 am #

    Hooray!!! A tuning!!! To be honest, it should have regular tunings so as not to require major adjustments the next time which may be very hard on the sound board. Dry winter air is the hardest on such acoustic instruments. Spring and Fall tuning is what I used to do…, I have a digital piano (space constraints required this change) but miss the wonderful sound of the acoustic one.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 18, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      Yes, they’re not the same, are they – electronic pianos – but better than nothing. Our tuner said that he really should come back in a year or less to get it even more finely tuned. My parents had theirs tuned annually I know.

  3. Minnesota Prairie Roots February 11, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    What a marvelous story and I am so impressed that Meep asked that the piano be tuned as her birthday gift.

    My father-in-law used to tune pianos and perhaps still does occasionally. I don’t know the process. But he lost one hand in a 1960s farm accident, thus tunes with one “good hand” and a hook (now he actually has a fake hand).

    Play on, Meep, play on. You, too, Gretchen.

    Neighbors just had an old piano delivered to their house the other day.I always wanted to play piano, but our family never had the money for one or for lessons and to this day I cannot read a musical note.

    I love that you prayed for a piano. God is good, isn’t He?

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 18, 2014 at 8:52 am #

      Yes, He is. I love seeing His answers! It’s nice that tuning a piano is a skill that is not limited to people with all their limbs and senses!!

  4. Jackie February 11, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    Loved your post…It’s sweet that Boo was excited for Meep to hear that the piano had been tuned. My Son got tired of waiting for us to tune the piano so he finally purchased a digital piano for himself….poor kid, I still need to get that thing tuned.

  5. Gwen Stephens February 11, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    As a former resident of Dusseldorf, Germany, I can say the Sundays drove me crazy. I’m a big city, fast-paced American, gosh darn it. Weekends are the time to get errands done. Why can’t stores be open on Sunday? 😀 Sounds like you got the deal of a lifetime on that piano. Ours was $200, and I thought that was a bargain.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 18, 2014 at 8:53 am #

      Ha! So you can relate to the German Sunday afternoon siesta rules! 🙂 Isn’t it funny?! Part of their national conscious, apparently!

  6. February 11, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    What a great birthday present. And maybe I should pray for a free piano. Except, we don’t really have a place to put it! I’ve got an electric keyboard which is a nice substitute. I don’t play it very much, but I should.

    By the way, “Entschuldigung” is one of the words that I learned to say before we visited Germany in 2003. Also, “eine tasse tee.”

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 18, 2014 at 8:54 am #

      Yes, it’s a handy word for sure! Difficult to pronounce, though. And yes, I’d take a cup of tea any time!

      • February 18, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

        You’re not going to believe this…My aunt called and asked me if I would like her older upright piano! At first I said “ok..yay!” but I don’t think we’ve got room in our house. Anyway, how about that!

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