The Erard piano

Please forgive the lighting...

This piano has taken a very interesting journey and has had a wonderful effect on the area over this past weekend. It has been moved by a group of people who are neither movers nor musicians six times and has, I believe, changed a few lives.  Some artistic organization purchased it so that piano concerts and other piano-utilizing events could be given in the area, and they kicked it off in style with a wonderful pianist from the conservatory in Sete, who has been winning competitions and prizes since the age of 16.

I was already planning on attending the concert (one of four) in Prunet on Sunday morning, when Lo asked me if I could help them wrangle the CE2/CM1/CM2 kids on Friday morning for a mini-concert for the students.  We left the primary school at quarter til 10 for a 30 minute walk down to town and up the other mountain to the collège (junior high), trying to keep them quiet for a good 15 minutes straight as we walked through town, before asking them to sit still and listen for an hour.  All in a day’s work.

But as it turned out, they didn’t need any prompting to behave once the presentation started.  Xavier (the pianist) introduced himself, explained his past in two sentences, and sat down to play to Debussy piece written for children, a light, fast-paced romp through the center of town (or so it sounded).  And from the first little hop, the kids were enthralled.  Every last one of them.  All 31 kids.  At the end, they didn’t start clapping, because they were still hypnotized by the piano.  Then, Xavier asked for questions.  They were too shy for what seemed like forever, and then half of the hands in the room shot up.  45 minutes out of the hour were used as a question and answer session, and we only had to say anything to the kids to curb bad behavior once — when one of the shorter kids started kicking the chair of the boy in front of him because he couldn’t see.

After a second quick excerpt from Beethoven, one of the kids asked what the pedals were for.  Xavier started explaining, demonstrating the difference in sound when pedals are used, by talking about the undamped strings.  A handful of kids stood up to try to see inside the piano, and he invited them up to get a closer look: “Come here, look in, just don’t touch!”  And every last kid went to look in, fascination on their faces that I’ve only seen twice before: once when they asked me to speak some poetry in English, and once when I kicked an errant soccer ball back to a group in the courtyard during recess (they had no idea I knew what a soccer ball — okay, football — was).  While Xavier explained the inner workings of the piano for about ten minutes, I asked one of the teachers, almost jokingly, “What, have they never seen a piano before?”

“No.  Most of them haven’t even seen one on TV.”

But it’s true.  There hadn’t been a piano in this town before now.  How much have I taken for granted?

Sunday’s full concert was even better than that.  Beethoven, Debussy, Franck, Liszt, and Chopin, played to the standards of Carnegie Hall or the Chicago Symphony Center.  People are still talking about it in town.

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