Piano whispers from an unknown history

Ghost-like memories of piano playing — years of scales, discords and sweet harmony from ivory keys — are hidden somewhere in the history of this old Chickering Victorian Square Grand Piano. No longer are visitors encouraged to play a tune on it. With its wires strung horizontally from left to right, rather than from front to back, its soft, subdued tones (listen) would be unlike what is produced by today’s pianos. But this one sits unused, silently overseeing the comings and goings of patrons in the lobby of a unique log building in BC’s south Cariboo.

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Jonas Chickering was the first piano builder in the United States, established in 1823. The Chickering brothers were known for building some of the finest pianos in history. This piano bears the Chickering name in gold lettering, but not in a style of text born by any other Chickering antique pianos that my research has unearthed, so I can’t vouch for its authenticity.

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(Click photo for larger view)

At one time a faded sign on it proclaimed, “circa 1883″, (or maybe it was 1853) but the sign has been gone for a while. Square grands existed from 1823 until the end of the 1880s. They began to lose favour when uprights became more popular, and were pretty well obsolete by 1900.

In the mid-1800s this one probably would have sold for between $800-$1200, the cost of a small house. One restoration site I visited offered fully restored Chickering square grands at prices from $30,000 to $50,000. I can’t afford one. Drat!

This particular piano sits against a wall, surrounded and topped by an accumulation of other collectibles from assorted eras. I wish I could rescue it! I’m not a great pianist or even a collector of antiques, but I want to clear everything off it, gently dust the keys and lower its lid against further insult.

I want to hear my daughters play it, or perhaps our church pianist — someone who understands all the emotion a piano can express and would appreciate its uniqueness and its place in musical history.

But I left it untouched… left with only photographs, and a longing to know its story.

Do you own a piano or another musical instrument? If it could talk, what story would it tell of its time in your household?

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“Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath
praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD!” 

[Psalm 150:1-6]

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The Rhythm of Words

Breezes dimple across the water and start wild grasses dipping and dancing. There’s a special rhythm nature brings to the seasons.

What do you think of when someone talks about rhythm? The repetitive thudding bass from the convertible that pulls up beside you at a traffic light? Maybe the toe-tapping that accompanies a rousing piece of music by a favourite band?

What about the rhythm of words?

Rhythm in Writing

I came across a fascinating ‘toy’ recently — the Rhythmwriter. Try it out and then come back so we can carry on our conversation.

Go ahead,

click on the link.

I’ll wait.

Isn’t it fun?

No matter the notes you choose, the resulting pulse is like a dancing heartbeat… a vital signs monitor gone berserk. One bar of assorted notes repeats to create a pleasing rhythm. At least, it’s pleasing until the repetition works its way into your head like an earworm and begins to drive you mad.

We need a certain amount of variety, in the rhythm of both music and writing.

“Just as musical notes blend together to create an auditory tapestry, so should your words.  Mix it up, shuffle the deck, alter the rhythm of your words.  Punctuate a paragraph with some staccato sentences.  Layer your language with elaborate harmonies.  Refrain from playing the same refrain over and over.  Use this musical analogy to think about your audience while you write and don’t forget to vary the rhythm of your words.” [Sari Mathes]

In writing, rhythm is achieved by varying the length of sentences and the style of their structure. We want the end result to sound like us — to reflect our literary voice — but at the same time we want the listening experience to be pleasant.

“The aims here are:

  1. to avoid overusing any one sentence structure in a way that becomes a distraction to the reader,
  2. to move gracefully back and forth between the clarity of simple sentences and the richness of complex sentences, and
  3. to evoke the rhythms of your own vocal style, with the same rising and falling of pitch, the same ebb and flow of phrasing between breaths.” [Michael Fleming]

Fleming suggests the best way to establish a natural rhythm is by reading your work aloud. I wonder how many writers do this. Do you? Do you read your manuscripts aloud while in the sanctuary of a closed room, play the words back to yourself via text-to-speech software, or perhaps share them with others at public readings or critique gatherings?

Are you conscious of developing rhythm in your writing? Do you think it’s more important in poetry than in prose?

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Still Saturday: A Weekend Blessing

Thanks to Ann Voskamp for pointing me to this moving song of personal offering by Paul Baloche. I’m passing it along as a Still Saturday  blessing this Christmastime weekend…

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Linking with Sandra Heska King for Still Saturday

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Remembering Sara

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“At times our own light goes out
and is rekindled by a spark
from another person.
Each of us has cause to think
with deep gratitude
of those who have lighted the flame
within us.”

(Albert Schweitzer) 

Light

Two years ago today a very special light went out in our world. Sara Frankl, known around the blogosphere and by her family and friends as Gitz, died. She had a disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, a genetic, systemic, autoimmune disease.

Sara was a person who had every reason to complain, but instead she chose a more positive route. On her ‘Gitzen Girl‘ blog she said, “I’m just a girl who used to write for a magazine to make a living, and now writes a blog to make a life. Extremely blessed, well-loved and choosing joy while learning that homebound doesn’t limit your life, just your location.”

Sara & Riley

(Sara and her Riley, borrowed with thanks from the Gitzen Girl blog)

In one of her later blog posts she explained that she was allergic to most of the drugs the doctors would have liked to give her, and “the one medication I take for the disease [other than the pain killers] I can only take in a limited amount before my white counts drop to a level the doctors aren’t comfortable with. In other words, I’m stuck. And I’ve exhausted every option. And yes, I’ve tried homeopathic things that were worse for me than any drug I’ve ever taken. I spent years fighting, and I will always try what I can in the future, but accepting what is, living with it, embracing it and finding joy in it is the only way I know how to live a productive life.”

She was a light in so many lives, right up until hers flickered out. But her life continues to inspire. It was because of Sara that my focus word in 2011 was “Joy“. That year hers was “Praise“. Through her I found Ann Voskamp‘s ‘A Holy Experience‘ website and later, Ann’s book, ‘1000 Gifts‘ that urges us to thankfulness by living fully and counting small everyday joys.

The (in)Courage community created a video about her for their online conference last year… ‘Sara’s Story‘. When you have a half hour to spare I encourage you to watch it. Or hop over to SoundCloud and listen to her sing. I hope you’re provoked to Choose Joy for yourself.

I’m remembering Sara today.

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“In the same way,
let your light shine before others,
so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father
who is in heaven.”

(Matthew 5:16)

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Friday Findings…

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Another week concludes, bringing us closer to the end of summer. I haven’t taken a significant blogging hiatus yet this year, but after helping one part of our family with their house-hunting and then their moving experience this month, and getting ready to help another move in two weeks, I think a little break is in order during the continuing chaos. I’ll try to pop in occasionally with some photography posts, but you may not hear much from me here over the next little while.

But whether it’s here or somewhere else, you can always count on lots happening around the internet and blogosphere. For instance, here are some of today’s findings that I found interesting…

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With his sixth novel, HEART FAILURE, soon to be released, there’s a Facebook announcement from Richard Mabry that his first medical mystery, CODE BLUE, is free today on Kindle, http://tinyurl.com/jwe8be6, Nook, http://tinyurl.com/kovls2a, and ebook, http://tinyurl.com/k943z5d. What a perfect time to get introduced to his “Prescription for Trouble” series. Even if you’re reading this too late to get it free, I think you’d enjoy picking up his ‘medical suspense with heart’ books.

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Valerie Comer and Angela Breidenbach use an engaging way to announce the contract signings for their September 2014 release of their two novellas in CHRISTMAS TIARA, that mixes “tiara talk with farm lit and Christmas” — check out their video here.

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Here’s an earlier-this-week blog post from Laura Best with the final cover reveal for her next novel, FLYING WITH A BROKEN WING, which will be releasing at the end of September.

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From Sue Harrison, a post reflecting on her week of virtual book touring, which celebrated the recent release of her six Alaska books in eBook format. There’s also a brand new video introduction to Sue that I’m sure you’d enjoy. You’ll find it here.

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Also found a couple FB posts by Sheila Seiler Lagrand alluding to an upcoming Christmas collection called THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS. “Kathi Macias is our ringleader,” says Sheila. “We each will contribute a story in which all the action takes place on a single one of the twelve days leading up to Christmas. Each of the twelve stories will be released individually as an e-book.” Keep your eyes open for this one.

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Denise Jaden’s “Friday Four” post today presented the cover for her February 2014 release, FAST FICTION:

“Fast Fiction is a quick, inspirational, step-by-step and day-by-day guide to writing a structurally sound and engaging first draft in the shortest amount of time possible. It provides a great starting point for writers as they ditch time-wasters, detour frustration, and overcome self-doubt, and it helps them decide where to go with their story and how to get there quickly, with results. Told in the empathetic and accessible voice of an author who can provide an insider’s look at her own craft and publishing experiences, Fast Fiction provides readers with their own writing coach as they embark on a quick, fun, and challenging 30 days to a first draft.”

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Take a break to listen to this hand-clapping, toe-tapping music video via a link posted by Donna Pyle, founder of Artesian Ministries. She says, “Such a cool, original way to make traditional music fresh for the next generation.”

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I’m told C.J. Box’s just released mystery, THE HIGHWAY, is a goosebump-raising change of pace from his Joe Pickett series. I’ve been a fan of his mystery stories right from the beginning. Now I’m not sure which to read first, THE HIGHWAY or BREAKING POINT, his latest Joe Pickett book.

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And for my fellow pet owners, a FB link via Sandra Heska King, with news of a dog and cat food recall:

Both Iams and Eukanuba brand dry dog and cat food are being recalled. Both have the “best by” dates within the first two weeks of November 2014 and could be tainted with Salmonella.

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There! With all that shared, hubby, dog and I are back to helping fill and empty packing boxes while enjoying the company of children and grandchildren. What are YOU up to this weekend?

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Going Green?

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Leafy greens

Ecologically green

Greenhorn cowboy

Greenstick fracture

Green apples

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No matter what version you favour, come mid-March there’s really no other green
except an Irish one. It was St. Patrick’s Day yesterday. I wasn’t particularly innovative,
but I wore green, and my visiting daughter baked a batch of green cupcakes for her girls.

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There was a time — my children will vouch for it — when there was green porridge
in the morning, green milk and green cream cheese sandwiches in the lunch kits,
and probably green mashed potatoes at the dinner table.
What can I say? I’m Irish, but in a ridiculously Canadian kind of way.

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Shamrocks

Blarney Stones

Irish Cream Creme Brulee 

An Irish Wolfhound if you like big dogs

or a Soft-coated Irish Wheaten Terrier if you don’t

Maybe a little Irish Step-dancing

Rainbows and Pots of Gold

A pint of Guinness

Leprechauns

Oh, it wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day without leprechauns, mischief and a bit of music!
However you spent it, I hope you had a great day.

.

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When is a piano like a story?

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The grand piano at our church ended up on its side today. I watched with sweaty hands as the two men detached the lyre and a leg, tipped the piano over and removed its brass wheels.

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There’s a good reason for what they were doing. The nearly-700 pound instrument needs to be moved occasionally and its little two-inch brass wheels push the carpet along, causing it to stretch and bulge. There’s also every possibility of a move one day breaking off a piano leg! They aren’t as sturdy as they look.

We decided the solution was to install a “truck dolly” — a heavy spider-like metal device which supports the piano legs. The dolly’s five inch rubber wheels with ball bearings allow the piano to be easily moved with a gentle push. The service techs knew what had to be done and how to do the task without damage to the piano. While I understood that, I still cringed as I watched them wrestle the weighty instrument to the ground.

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I was there to open the church doors, supervise the installation and eventually hand over the necessary cheque, but of course I had also brought my camera along and I took pictures. Tonight as I review the photos I am struck by the similarity of the procedure to my manuscript revisions and rewrites.

We focus on getting our stories written because, after all, how often have we heard, “You can edit anything except a blank page?” We keep writing, and much like Topsy the story keeps growing as we work toward a novel-length word count.

The strange thing is, when we finally reach the end we may be holding a word-weighted tome that isn’t finished at all. It needs help. The plot doesn’t move smoothly. Even if we edit and revise, pushing the words around until the story is in danger of collapse, it often isn’t until someone more knowledgeable — an experienced critique partner or editor — gets hold of it, that a solution is found. Among other things, shoring up the story may mean getting rid of inadequate scenes or reinforcing the plot with stronger characters.

As nervous as I am about letting others get their hands on ‘my baby’, I know the right support will strengthen it.

Do you seek out advice from beta readers and critique buddies? How willing are you to take the advice of those who might suggest major changes in your manuscripts?

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