Yesterday I was between stores in downtown Portland and in a hurry. I’d just bought a book at Powell’s City of Books and was on the scent of a folding accordion-file. I’d been walking longer than I though I should have, so periodically stopped into restaurants whose outside patrons were enjoying dinner on the sidewalk and 90-degree evening breezes to ask directions.
“Is there an Office Max somewhere down here?” And each time I got a bit more directions.
Suddenly off to my left I saw a store with a piano in the window. I did not recognize the make of piano, but any piano in a storm. I went in and, sure enough, it was a foreign land of pianos whose brands I’d never seen before. And there in the middle of all of them was a baby-grand Steinway piano, its top raised.
I was smitten and asked one of three sales ladies at a desk if I could play the Steinway. They said I could not, as there was a class being given in an adjacent room, and pointed to a window. Sure enough, behind the window a semi-circle of people sat around a piano as the master raced up and down the keys.
I nodded good-bye and was walking out when a fourth woman got up from a seat hidden by all the pianos and walked over to me. She said the gallery had “A Steinway room,” and asked if I’d like to see it. Food to a starving man!!!! I did all I could not to appear juvenile in my delight, and said indeed I’d like to see it. Never in my life had I seen more than one Steinway in a room at one time, and here this gallery had “A Steinway room!”
We walked to the far end of the gallery from the music lesson window, and the woman opened a door. Inside the room were 15 Steinway pianos — several uprights, several baby grands, several grands, several semi- or salon grands and one — yes, one king — one Steinway Concert Grand Piano.
I don’t know when the woman left the room, if she did. I stood transfixed before that great, gleaming black-and-white behemoth. I could not have been any more stunned than if someone had driven a steam locomotive through the room in front of me.
I sat down. The bench was already the proper distance from the keyboard for me. I had been expected.
And I played. And I played. And I played. And the giant base notes of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” roared from the harp. And the combined chords synergized and clasped my head around my ears and chorused to a crescendo whose likes I had never heard before. There was a secret, honey-sweet quality to the sound that only I could hear, close to it as I was. But it was not that. It was greater than that. It was the harmony of a hundred Russian male choruses singing in unison.
And I began to cry at the beauty, at the majesty of all that power, of that silken sound in its shining black satin case. It was the deepest, most profound, most beautiful sound I had ever heard, ever been that close to. And I was causing it — on a Steinway Concert Grand Piano. My first.
I will never forget yesterday, never forget that sound. It took me 65 years to make it. I can hear it still!