The Music of Spring

yellow dandelion


2014-03-20 – We had our piano tuned yesterday. There are 88 keys on a piano, but there are far more strings than keys (over 200, depending on the type of piano). Many of the notes are formed of three strings. Many of the lower ones are formed from two or even one for the very lowest.

The fact that a note is formed from a set of strings is, to me, counterintuitive. I know that the purpose is to give the more volume than would be given by a single string. But introducing multiple strings creates a need for wider hammers to strike the strings. The wider the hammer, the less clearance there is for the hammer to swing freely. And more mechanical complexity is required to assure that the mechanism works every time. And the tuning process is more complicated, too, requiring that each set be made to sound in unison, like a single note, when it is struck.

The occasion for the tuning was spring break for my son Cal. Cal has declared twin majors of art and music. He’s always played the piano, but he’s taking lessons again and is really getting good. He’s all excited to have the piano tuned. As soon as the tuner left, he sat down to play a classical piece in the “sensitive style” by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, but he played it at about twice the normal speed, with the sustain pedal floored, like he was driving in a race. He asked me if playing that way made it sound like Debussy. I said that it didn’t.

Today is the first day of spring. Most of the snow of winter has melted, but not all. As I walked into the park at dawn, I listened to the excited chirping of the birds and to the mechanical, rattling sound of the woodpeckers.

On this one day, the day and the night are like the unison strings of the piano: equal. Tomorrow, the length of the day will exceed the length of the night and the difference will increase until the first day of summer. The strings on the piano are also beginning to diverge from one another, but hopefully the process will take years rather than a day.

For a few days, at least, nature will be playing Debussy’s Rondes de Printemps (Spring).


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