“Your mother brought this spinet with her when she got married.”
I know what the word “spinet” means. I read it in a novel last week and then I found it in the dictionary, so I know that it’s a name for a type of very short piano. My siblings just call this a piano, but I think my uncle calls it a spinet because he likes to be scientific.
“Since you’re probably old enough to learn how to put some new life in this thing, it’s high time it got a new friend.”
My uncle slides the wooden cover into the piano and the keys are revealed. The white keys are tinged with yellow, like my uncle’s teeth. I climb onto the bench. I can’t quite reach the pedals, but hopefully that isn’t important. I stare at the black and white blocks that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. This belonged to Mama and it belongs to her ghost now. I don’t think I should be doing this, but I can’t tell uncle that I think Mama has a ghost because he’s a doctor and doctors don’t believe in ghosts.
“Go on. Press one of the keys.” He points at the little blocks and smiles at me. “What, you think it’s gonna bite you?”
Of course it won’t. The keys may look like teeth, but they’re not in a properly functioning mouth, so they couldn’t do anything to me. I expected better from a doctor, really. I put a finger on one of the white keys and press down.
I blink. I’ve never heard a sound as clear and pretty as this before. I press on some of the keys next to it. So the piano can make its voice sound different the same way a person can, but unlike a person, a piano can make several different sounds at once. Maybe a piano is actually many people.
“Go ahead and get a feel for all the different pitches.”
Pitches. So that’s what the different sounds are called. The black keys are like bridges between the pitches of the white keys, and the white keys that don’t have black keys between them are so close that they don’t need bridges. So that’s how it all works.
I come across a white key that sounds like the beginning of the song my sister sings when she’s kneading dough. If I can find more and put them in the right order, maybe I can make the spinet sing the same song. Except I don’t think that the spinet can make the words. But at least it will sound nice.
“Here’s a book that your mother had.” There’s a long piece of wood with hinges that’s stuck on the spinet, right above the keys and right under the big gold letters that I can’t read because they’re too fancy. My uncle flips it down so it makes a little shelf that he can put the book on.
The book explains that the curly shaped “S” is called a treble clef, the ear-shaped curve with the two dots after it is a bass clef, and the lines that they sit on are called staffs. A curly line hugging the left side of the staffs makes the two sets a grand staff.
And then the notes, which are the different black shapes that are either hollow or solid and sometimes with lines and flags sticking out, and then the sharps and flats which are the black keys, and the names of all the notes. The names are not names like Eva or Philip, they are just letters. The name of the first note of the song that my sister likes to sing is called A. And the next one is B, which is one black key away from A. And the next….
— Cindy Ho, BFR Staff