Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Piano Men

I’d never had the chance to play the piano in the middle of a street before. So when I was walking up 16th Street Mall this past weekend and saw an upright piano just sitting there, how could I refuse?

—just some simple blues improv, and then into a rendition of Hotel California by the Eagles. Nothing fancy, nothing groundbreaking or difficult. Mostly I chose Hotel California because I knew Randy didn’t like it; we had just been talking about it in the car the day before.

There was something very surreal in the scene. I think I’ve probably had this dream before, in fact: there I was in a foreign city, a piano with cracked ivory just sitting there silently, boasting a miniature mural of blue flowers and other non-geometric swirls, waiting to be played by any random passerby. The middle ‘E’ was broken, but all the other keys held their own surprisingly well.

Emily and Michelle and Randy sat behind me on the curb, resting their feet from all our walking, listening, watching me play, chatting idly amongst themselves. A couple of people stopped to listen for a moment, went on their way. Michelle came up to me and took a few pictures—or possibly a video of me playing; I’m not sure which—and then Randy came over for his turn at the piano.

Once upon a time, Randy used to play the guitar in a Johnny Cash tribute band; we’ve all heard him play the guitar and all knew he loves music. He had just given us a fun, interesting discourse on music the day before, in fact. But the piano?—I’ve known him for years and never knew that he played.

You think you know someone…

He sat down, played a bit of Tom Waits (or was it Tom Jones?), and then onto the main hook from some blues piece or another—maybe Swanee River(?) I’m not sure. I leaned into Michelle, whispered, “I didn’t know your husband knew anything about the piano.”

Michelle whispered back, “I didn’t either.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Life is a series of surprises, and would not be worth taking or keeping, if it were not. God delights to isolate us every day, and hide from us the past and the future. We would look about us, but with grand politeness he draws down before us an impenetrable screen of purest sky, and another behind us of purest sky. ‘You will not remember,’ he seems to say, ‘and you will not expect.’” (from his essay, Experience)

Sometimes life catches us off guard—even when we think we’ve got it all figured out. Sometimes people surprise us—even the people we’re closest to.

Plans, knowledge…sure, these are helpful. But surprises?—now those are much more interesting, aren’t they? More interesting, and altogether more worthwhile.

So then, a tip, if you don’t mind:

Let yourself be surprised. 


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