Tickling the Ivories
The piano as a musical instrument has been in my mind as of late. Thinking about it I realized I have quite a few photographs of people by pianos either pianists or simply sitting by one.
My first introduction to the piano came at age 8 when my parents took me to the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires for a concert featuring Arthur Rubinstein.
My mother did not own a piano but my grandmother did. We would often go in Tram 35 to my Abuelita’s flat and my mother would first accompany my her (she was a coloratura soprano) and my Uncle Tony who was a fine tenor. They would sing American musical songs. Then my mother would play (she read very well) Chopin and in particular I have a fond memory of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
My mother did not have access to a piano until she began to teach at the ALCOA Aluminio School in Veracruz, Mexico I the late 50s. The few students who attended the school did so at my mother’s home so a piano was bought. When I visited her she would play at my request the US Marine Corps Hymn.
In the late 60s she bought an upright piano a black Bechstein. When she moved to live with us (Rosemary, Alexandra and Hilary) we were having money problems so she sold the piano. I was heartbroken at her decision. I have never forgotten her sacrifice.
Around 1998 our neighbour across the street on Athlone Street (she was in her 80s) told us that she was looking for a home for her Chickering baby grand. Her grandmother had given it to her when she was a little girl. She offered it to us for $500. I was easily transported from her living room to ours.
Shortly after we obtained the Chickering I decided to give a summer party featuring alto saxophonist Gavin Walker and pianist Eric Vaughn. It was a beautifully warm summer evening and I remember sitting at the front entrance smoking a Montecristo accompanied by Malcolm Parry.
My eldest daughter Ale who plays the classical guitar can handle a piano nicely and she likes to play with my youngest granddaughter, Lauren, 15, music for four hands.
Because of my mother’s sacrifice in selling her piano and my deep guilt, a year and a half ago we had the piano restored by Mike Storey and soon it will be tuned. The piano sits in what we call the piano room. We have old lawyer’s stacking bookcases and my vermillion upholstered psychiatric couch (the piano bench is also upholstered in the same material which also matches the brand new red piano felts.
Some reading this (and this is long) might notice some photographs that have harpsichords.
For many years I was not impressed by the instrument. In large baroque orchestras I could never hear it. Solo harpsichord playing left me cold.
All that changed when Alexander Weimann landed in Vancouver to be the Artistic Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra. He explained how in many instances nothing he played as a continuo performer for a baroque orchestra was written and he had to improvise. With the connection between the harpsichord and my love for jazz my ears suddenly opened to the charms of the instrument.
Finally on taking photographs of pianists. This is really a cliché. I discovered that all has been done before and the one exception was the Stravinsky portrait by Arnold Newman. I ripped off the idea for a Globe&Mail article on Vancouver artist Rodney Graham.
Some years ago I was asked by Vancouver Pianist Jane Coop to take her portraits. I found a way which I liked (and so did she). It was that method that I used a few days ago on Corey Hamm. Another time I had to photograph noted local pianist Robert Silverman who had recorded Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas. I decided to skip the piano on that occasion.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.