Music may well soothe .......
written by Tony Wright...
Wambyn Olive Farm; sanctuary for ruined pianos. Photo: Supplied
A PIANO sat at the centre of things in our family. It still does. Any excuse for a gathering set the piano singing. Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Easter, picnic races, a sheep or cattle sale, a wake …
Our grandfather played almost anything with great elegance, from the classics to music hall, cousins stepped up with boogie-woogie and rock'n'roll and we'd wait for an uncle to drop his left shoulder at the keyboard, a certain sign he was in the mood for Hank Williams.
Our mother was given to Schubert and Brahms and accompanied our father with his fine tenor and his love of arias; an aunt possessed a soprano that could make the night roll away.
And as the hours went by in the old family homestead, everyone reached back and the songs of Ireland floated across dark Australian paddocks, as if Donegal and Galway hadn't been left behind generations before. On those nights, the Mountains of Mourne swept down to the sea a very long way from County Down, and there was still the ache of diaspora to it.
Music diverts, inspires and heals. It lends context and variation to the colour of life.
My brother could twist the delicate Moonlight Sonata into a long free-form jazz improvisation, Beethoven still somehow contained within it, setting a trance upon us.
When a motorcycle crash took him, hardly more than a boy, the clan gathered for the mourning and sought solace in the piano in the knowledge that here, at least, the magic that was his would never quite fade away.
A singularly musically gifted cousin has rescued the old piano from our grandparents' home and built a stone shrine around it. It is still perfectly in tune, vibrating with memories.
My daughters, who play guitar, remain entranced when my mother, in her 90s now, finds herself regularly moved to sit before her piano and lose herself in music.
The piano - upright, baby grand or grand - seems a peculiar instrument in these restless times. So bulky, so immoveable, so permanent in an era when our lives have become
utterly mobile and our pleasures airily transportable. Why, you can stick your entire musical collection in your pocket and plug into it with a set of earphones wherever and
whenever you wish.
An old piano is an anchor. Perhaps that physical quality constitutes much of its enduring allure. Hold on, it says, you mustn't discard the past so easily - slow down, sit awhile, let it sing old tunes to you.
Even when a piano dies, its frame cracked, leaving it beyond the skill of a tuner, there are those who can't bear to consign it to the breaking yard. In the West Australian wheat belt, a farming couple has granted asylum to exhausted pianos.
Jason Cotter, a writer from the Mornington Peninsula, recently penned an essay about the sanctuary for ruined pianos established by Kim Hack and Penny Mossop on their Wambyn Olive Farm, not far from the village of York, east of Perth. More than 20 old instruments sit scattered around the paddocks, beneath trees, by windmills, home to bush rats and possums and termites, the wind caressing their strings. Visitors from around the world come to pay tribute. Cotter wrote that he found ''less of a funeral and more of a life well-lived''.
Perhaps, though I remain unconvinced. It sounds like a graveyard for lost good times.
A piano, indeed, is nothing without the music, its reason for existence.
And you don't have to find your music in a piano. It is, in the end, nothing more than an instrument - albeit an instrument of genius - from which the enchantment of music can be conjured.
<snip> the full loveliness of its original name.
It's Italian for quiet-loud.
Tony Wright is national affairs editor. Follow him on Twitter @tonyowright