He warned me. The piano tuner made it clear that the age of the strings and the length of time since the last tuning boded ill. As with all things, age and neglect are not the best of all possible combinations. But still when the sproyoyoying came, it hurt. An F# was felled, broken and limp among its taut brethren in the chest of the baby grand.
I regarded it sadly and was reminded of a Middle C I once knew. I was in high school, trying to eke Beethoven out of my mother’s old upright Kimball, the stalwart that had seen two generations through piano lessons. More and more it balked. I wanted music but it gave me mere sound. I was working at the Sonata Pathetique, getting nowhere. The first lines always seemed to me to be about something ominous and something weary; there was a controlled threat and a controlled grief in those lines but I could never capture them with my fingers. And then there was no more control and the music tore loose — or was supposed to, I thought. The wild ride in the next section hinged on the most important Middle C I’d ever met. My right hand begged the piano for that while my left hand negotiated with two lower Cs. Three octaves of Cs and me. There was nothing else in the cosmos.
The lower Cs rumbled with some conviction but Middle C gave me nothing. I tried it again. And again. Beethoven was NOT in there. Once more with more force, no, with outright anger. And there it was: lying before me, on the ledge just behind the music, the hammer for Middle C. It had given its all. I felt like a murderer. I sat there, guilt- and angst-ridden, staring at it, with its deeply lined head and long broken leg; Middle C was no more. With it had gone all hope of coaxing (or beating) Beethoven out of that old piano.
Did I learn that anger doesn’t make music? Not at all. I did learn that pianos can get even.