Sunday, January 11, 2009

The gift of music

This is my great aunt Jennie Minnie Erskine. When this photo was taken she lived in Iowa and played and taught piano there.
This is her piano that her parents purchased new for her in 1889. It was called a cabinet organ then. She brought it with her when her family came to Oregon by train. The piano sat in a farmhouse at Rock Hill for a short while until Minnie got married and moved to Seattle. Her mother sent the piano to her, again by train and she enjoyed it for many years there. My mother her niece moved in with Minnie as a child, and although Minnie taught piano my mother never learned to play. Both her Uncle George and Aunt Minnie played the piano very well, and at different times both taught. After my mother married and had me, her first child, Aunt Minnie developed arthritis in her fingers and hands. When I was about 4 years old, the piano came to live at our house in Seattle.

I learned to play, mostly by the hard work of my mother. What a wonderful legacy that has been for me. It has truly been one of the joys of my life to sit and play wonderful music. After my marriage I moved to Oregon, and shortly thereafter the piano made the trip once again back to Oregon where it has remained. My husband and I have moved it 21 times or so around Oregon but it has stayed in this location in my living room now for about 15 years. If you know how heavy an upright piano is, you know the the rigors of the moves this piano has been through!
A few years ago we had the piano refinished in Portland. All those years the family thought it was mahogany because it was very dark with a reddish tint. But wonderful had been stained to look like mahogany (because that was the popular look in 1889) but turned out to be circassian English walnut prized for the wood pattern.

This photo of the wood grain shows the beauty, but is a little too the actual wood is more brown-toned. The piano is in wonderful condition, and has a beautiful case with lovely adornment. All the keys are original ivory and not one is broken or yellowed as is often the case with older uprights. We did replace the sounding board when it was refinished as it had cracked due to the low humidity of Central Oregon. We now 'water' the piano as it has a humidifier inside.

I framed Aunt Minnie's handwritten certificate of completion of her studies on the Cabinet Organ in Iowa and keep it on top of her piano. I also have a letter dated 1901 from Aunt Minnie's mother to her talking about bringing the piano to Oregon from Iowa. It's great to have that legacy and continuity through several generations...and I am so thankful for it. Aunt Minnie and Uncle George also left me several shelves of wonderful turn of the century music...both classical and then popular sheet music. I'll have to photograph some of the wonderful covers and post them another time. My fondest memory however is of Aunt Minnie teaching me to play my very first hymn...her favorite 'O Happy Day'. It's the heritage of church music that I truly cherish.

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