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Posts Tagged The Piano Lesson

Piano As Metaphor

The refurbished family piano
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Over 20 years ago, an old piano was passed down to us from my husband’s maternal side of the family. We were the third generation to own it, so it was in pretty rough shape. Without the financial means nor free time to repair it, we simply moved this heavy load to serve as a handy surface for knickknacks and random paper piles from one home to the next. In many ways, the piano well-represented the fragmentation within that maternal branch of the family’s relationships at the time. Though riddled with ever-new spats, long-harbored grudges and back-turning silences, they still managed to (sometimes barely) hold together with old glue–the family blood that binds.

A scene with cast members (l to r) Ansa Akyea, Michael Jemison, Adelin Phelps and Kiara Jackson
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

When my husband, with some professional help, finally did refurbish the piano about a decade ago, the newly functional instrument became a unifying symbol within our own immediate family. Unable to continue piano lessons as a young boy with divorced parents who’d kept moving from place to place, my husband now began tinkling on the keys during those brief moments of waiting–for the tub to fill, for our young daughter to be ready for her bedtime story, for the bathroom to be free . . . . Sometimes our girl would sit next to him to see what Daddy was up to as he slowly picked up some of his former piano-playing skills. Simply watching turned into fingering the keys herself until, one day, she asked for piano lessons, which she enjoys to this day as a teen.

Piano as metaphor. I am betting that’s a more common concept than one may imagine.

Ansa Akyea as Paul
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

In fact, when speaking to Ansa Akyea about his roles as a soldier and the pastor Paul in Cardboard Piano, I noted that pianos have now figured prominently in two plays that he’s been in. In 2008, he played Boy Willie in a Penumbra production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson in which the family’s upright piano, carved with ancestral portraits, loomed large as a metaphor of their history–past, present and future. In Cardboard Piano, playwright Hansol Jung introduces two accounts of a cardboard piano that are central to the themes of the play and what happens to Ansa’s characters. That the piano is made of cardboard, not wood, is significant.

Asked if he played the piano or owns a metaphorical piano, Ansa replied, “I used to play the piano but switched to the saxophone when I was 8 or 9 because I didn’t like the teacher whom I had. It’s one of my biggest regrets to have stopped. At around 10 or 11, I’d turned my attention to sports.

As for my metaphorical piano, it is my instrument–my body and my craft. I try to let chords pour through and into me. My body has a range, and I make sure to take good care of it, both physically and spiritually. I’ve matured so do things that are good for me to bring life to my instrument. Everyone has a calling, and I listen to my instrument to fulfill that passion.”

 

 

Tickets and information for Cardboard Piano here

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