The Piano Man

I’m a Jack of all musical trades. As a trained piano tuner, I am in constant demand. Wherever there is one of those great musical instruments, whether it is in a dance hall, a church, a concert hall, or is an old worn-out upright with chipped yellow keys in the most humble of homes, those who love them will be calling on me to make theirs sound the best that it can. You can find an old piano sitting on the sidelines, waiting for my attention in every school or church. I am a busy man.

I enjoy my work, but the job that fulfills my dreams is that of an entertainer.  Most Friday or Saturday evenings I can be found almost anywhere in the Texas Hill Country pounding away at the keys as I play along in a country band, having fun, making other folks happy.  They dance, they sing. Life is great!

Occasionally there is no gig for the band and I have a weekend off. What to do?  How about I play solo at the local airport lounge?  What a lot of fun that is.  I love to sing while I play. When I’m solo, I do it my way. Folks ask me to play a favorite song. If I am not familiar with that one, I say, “How does that go?  Sing a little bit of it.”  After that, I’m on my way. I’ve learned something new.

One Monday morning I was called to the home of two elderly music teachers. They had been retired for years, but still enjoyed making music and they still had a sparkle in their eyes even though their withered bodies were bent and slow-moving.

I rang the doorbell and a dog started barking and banging at the door. He sounded fearsome. I waited and waited. There seemed to be quite a bit of commotion on the other side of the door as the dog yipped and a raised voice excitedly moved off in the distance. Just as I was about to turn and leave, an old gentleman finally opened the door. He explained, “I put the dog out so he won’t bother you. He is a gentle soul but might be a nuisance. 

“Follow me to the piano room. It is quite a happy room, sunny and bright, even on the most cloudy of days. You’ll find it a wonderful place to work. We put it at the back of the house so we won’t be interrupted when we are playing.”

He wasn’t exaggerating when he said that it was a happy room.  The whole back wall was glass windows and doors. A beautiful garden bloomed. A giant German Shepherd dog sat outside watching our every move. In the middle of the room stood a beautiful Steinway grand piano. It was obviously a well-loved instrument, kept dust free and highly polished.

I put down my bag of tools and sat on the piano bench, lifted the cover to expose the perfect, white keys. My fingers wandered over them, up and down the keyboard to see how well it would perform. I could hardly hear it because of the loudly screaming dog, yodeling, growling, crashing against the glass door. He was violent.

The old folks calmly stood by, never looking at the dog, watching me. I’m sure I either looked shocked or terrified as I asked, “Is there a possibility that your dog might break the glass?”

“No. He hasn’t done that for a long time. He’s as gentle as a lamb,” the lady assured me.

I didn’t believe her.

He calmed while I opened the piano and got into my work, but when I pressed my fingers onto the keys, he started up again. “I can’t tune this piano with all the noise. I have to hear the keys,” I complained.

“So sorry,” the frail little man said. “Maybe he’ll calm down if I bring him inside.

Alarm bells gave me a chill. “Uh, he doesn’t seem very friendly. Can you handle him?” 

“Oh he’s a sweet and gentle boy. He wouldn’t chase a flea off his paw if it was biting him.”

I turned and started working on the piano again as the man toddled to the glass door carrying a slip leash.

“Dasher!” he exclaimed as he stepped outside. “What is all the fuss about? Such nonsense.”

As he and Dasher entered the room, the dog glared at me and growled loudly. The man sat down beside the woman on a cozy chair identical to hers, facing the outside, with Dasher on the floor between them. They seemed completely unconcerned by the quiet growling coming from their dog as I tapped on keys and struck cords. For the most part, things had quieted enough for me to do my work.

When I finished, I started singing and playing “True Love Ways.” A chill ran up my spine when something nudged me firmly on my flank. It was persistent. I looked down to see a happy dog, wagging his tail, enjoying my tunes.

The old people had fallen asleep, allowing the dog to come closer to me, revealing to me that all along, the animal had simply wanted to be close to the music. He had naturally been upset when ushered outside away from the tunes and he hadn’t liked it one bit when I would stop playing in order to work on the piano.

Now that I understood, I decided to serenade him. As I played one song after another, he never stirred. There were no more growls until I finally rose from the piano bench and started packing my tools. It was as if he was saying, “Don’t stop now. Please keep on playing.”

I think we were both reluctant for me to leave.

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Linda L. Steele
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