Monday, June 1, 2009

Shakespeare is my therapist II

We are in Act II of "All's Well That Ends Well." The King is sick. Helena has a cure, but it is an unusual cure. And Helena is a woman, and who ever heard of a woman doctor? So the King is hesitant. But that's when Helena offers these immortal words:

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
Where most it promises; and oft it hits
Where hope is coldest, and despair most fits.

The king is convinced.

As a musician these words struck me. How often it is that a big organization -- a symphony orchestra, an opera company -- is in a jam because the "big name" performer is sick and a substitute is needed quickly. These are opportunites for the not-quite-famous artists to shine. How often it is that they shine more brightly than the overpaid big name would have! The shame, of course, is that they are hired not on their merits but because said organization was desperate.

In 2006, I traded my 1984 Steinway upright -- of which I was the original owner -- for a 1913 Mason & Hamlin upright. The former was professionally appraised for $9000. The latter was professionally appraised for $500.

The truth? The Mason & Hamlin is a better piano in every respect. Action? Better. Dynamic range? Better. Tone? Infinitely better. Voicing and regulation? Better, and this old piano had been heavily used. In short: pianistically and musically, this Mason & Hamlin was the superior to the Steinway across the charts.

I told a well-respected piano technician this story. He agreed that the professional appraisal, nine thousand vs. five hundred, was accurate. And yet he didn't deny the truth of what I was saying. In fact, it didn't surprise him at all.

Meanwhile, on eBay I found a company in England that made brass piano sconces in the Victorian style. I searched through the plethora of sconces, picked a pair that I like, ordered them, they arrived from England, and my tuner screwed them into the Mason & Hamlin. So now my piano has even more character -- enough character, in fact, that even I'm satisfied.