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.

Chickering Piano Keys-1

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.

Chickering piano-1
(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?


“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]

~  ~  ~







Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

2 thoughts on “Piano whispers from an unknown history

  1. Oh, Carol. I love this post. My first instrument was a piano, and I’ve loved piano music since childhood. You would love a manuscript I read for my friend, Marion Morrison Ueckermann. In it the piano is at the center of a mystery and an agent for romance.

    My pianos have been simple. The first was a Lester Betsy Ross Spinet. My mother bought it for me when I was nine. I had begged for a year or more to take piano lessons. Within two years, I had advanced beyond the point where it’s action could keep up with my fingers, so we traded that one in on a Gulbransen Baby Grand. I loved that piano and had it til I was married. We didn’t have room for it in the apartment, so I left it with my mother – and discontinued playing for a few years. Eventually I bought a Gulbransen Studio Upright. I’ve had it for fifty years. It still sits in my living room.

    My former office has been turned into a conservatory for my music major daughter who lives with us. It houses her Rosewood Pramberger grand and her electronic keyboard. Pianos have been at the heart of my life. It will probably remain true for the rest of my life.

    1. With your background, Judith, I’m sure you would have appreciated the old Chickering! Thanks for sharing your story.

      The only piano I had access to as a child was in my grandparents’ dining room, and I would close the door and plunk away on it with one finger, playing by ear, whenever we visited. I wasn’t given the opportunity for lessons.

      The first piano we actually owned was one we got for free — a disreputable old player piano that lacked its ‘playing’ innards and was going to be destroyed by axe to get it out of someone’s basement. My hubby took it apart into hundreds of pieces, carefully numbering each piece, and then he reconstructed it in our basement. Our two oldest children began their first formal lessons on it, but we had to sell it later when we moved.

      Later we bought an apartment-sized Yamaha and our two daughters developed their love of music while they learned to play on it. The elder daughter now has a digital piano in her home, while the younger has our old Yamaha, and her two children are learning to play on it. I’m left with an electronic keyboard which is adequate for my needs now that arthritis limits my playing.

      My daughters would covet your conservatory. It’s a dream of theirs to someday have a dedicated music room / library. 🙂

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