Feature Writer Jane Kronheim – Mrs. Finneburgh’s Piano: An Early Gift of Music

Whenever I visit programs for young children, I am always scanning the classroom in search of a piano. A real piano. Yes, they are still out there, those pieces of musical furniture lurking somewhere in a preschool or kindergarten classroom.

In recent years, the pianos have been disappearing. I do not see them anymore. This reminds of a time, long ago, when I was a little girl. Mom and I would visit Mrs. Finneburgh’s house. In her living room, filled with typical furnishings of the 1950’s, I saw this beautiful piano.

Mrs. Finneburgh’s children, now grown up, once took lessons there. But the piano, still looking beautiful as ever, had been transformed, and became a fancy table top upon which the family stored photos, embellishing its uppermost level.

I would ask Mrs. Finneburgh if it was OK for me to sit at the piano and explore its black and white keys. At that point, I did not really know how to play the piano, but I loved tinkling the ivories for hours, forming chords, making my way with “Chopsticks” and lovingly creating those “Oriental” sounding melodies playing only the black keys, as I called them.

On and on I would play high notes, imagining little woodland folk floating around the upper keyboard, then low, deep notes as if thunder just infiltrated the deep forest while all of the woodland creatures ran off to their appointed knot holes. I loved Mrs. Finneburgh’s piano and the fact that she allowed me those moments of time in which to create my own childish rhapsodies.

I am struck by the fact that people are discarding these “relics” of old front rooms and Victorian parlors. Some people will do anything; “just cart it away and you can have it for free,” say many of the “Piano for Sale” ads in the local papers.

Just a few years ago, while up north doing some vision consults, my student and I were on a community trip when we went into a secondhand shop and saw an announcement regarding a piano raffle. I put my name in, just for fun, and wouldn’t you know it, they called me from the great north woods to tell me that I had won the piano, so come and get it! I explained that I was a three and a half hour drive away. I tried to hook them up with a local piano teacher in their neck of the woods, but somehow they never connected.

Sadly I learned that these people, out of frustration, took an ax to the old piano, eventually dumping it into some local ravine. I was heartsick, feeling guilty and remorseful about the demise of that piano. I felt that its musical soul had been broken. What could I have done?

I thought again about Mrs. Finneburgh’s old piano, how I had loved it, longed for one just like it and eventually learned how to play an upright Krakauer that my parents bought.

I hope that young children today, even in the midst of their iPods and iPads and virtual keyboards, will have the opportunity to play a real piano in real time in some old lady’s front room.

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