“The Grand Life of Upright Piano”
by John Pranio
(PA Starck Piano Co. est.1891 New York – Chicago)
So here’s the fairly thrilling story of the piano the Oshima boys grew up plunking away on as kids in Whitefield. Toki’s mother’s old upright was gifted to us early on, and we all enjoyed years of its musical generosity. We had the old-timer tuned countless times and refurbished more than once. But finally, a couple years before we moved to Belfast, it was beyond repair and it ended up out on the screen porch. Here it hunkered down, functioning as a table of sorts at pot-lucks; a dusty collector of stuff; a plant stand, etc. There, hit by sideways spraying rain or snow, spilled lemonade, or manhandled by a new generation of young musical explorers, it stood, dignified, with unflagging posture.
Jamie dreamed of setting it on fire in a music video and giving it a proper sending off, but that never quite happened. Once though, Toki and I were awakened late one summer night to find him out there on the screen porch at 2:45 AM with a smoke machine, photography lights ablaze and smoke billowing out of the bowels of the piano as he feverishly played and filmed away.
When we moved to Belfast in 2017, the piano was that last pesky thing we couldn’t quite get around to moving, but months later we finally managed to borrow Adam and Johanna’s farm truck and hauled it to its new home in Waldo County. Before we could figure out what to do with it, this resilient little piano made a cameo in an Oshima Brothers video called “The Way it Goes.” (Advertisement: You can find that on Youtube). As good as it was, this upright had even grander plans. A couple days after staring at the piano in the back of the truck, in the pouring rain, several good friends (only your best friends get invited to piano moving parties, and only family or your best best best friends get invited to rainy piano moving parties) helped carry the piano to the very front and center of our new house facing the driveway, where we were satisfied to leave it out there in the weather as a decoration, until, well, whenever…
Our good friend Russ, the builder of our beautiful new home, gently reminded us (several times) that the shingles were going to rot behind the piano. We eventually moved the piano a bit further out from the house and got on with our lives. Before too long, the black and whites became fused up and, sadly, the old-timer became mute. Still, it looked lovely out there lightly covered in snow or with weeds and wild flowers growing up around it in the summer. The Leaky Boot Jug Band took a CD cover photo out there in front of it. We thanked it occasionally for being such a loyal friend and apologized when some of the black keys started to actually fall off and some of its skin began to delaminate.
After a couple years of this, it was finally time. Couldn’t be avoided. We had to ask the hard questions and deal: Should we dowse it in something nasty and set it ablaze? Take it to the ocean and let it float out to sea? Would it float? What’s for lunch? Well, we decided, let’s at least move it away from the house and then figure something out. Maybe. O-kay, settled.
One lovely September day (at least it wasn’t raining) it was piano moving day once again. Sean, Jamie, Alex Wilder and I were present. Nobody was particularly excited. Respectfully, we circled around our long-time companion; maker of music; life of the party; center of attention; table; plant stand; lawn ornament. We gave it a little nudge. Oh my! Not too stable on her feet anymore. Hmmm, what to do? And then we had a fairly obvious idea…