Surviving political disappointments, and a note on my piano

by Rob Tiller

For those like me whose political views face in a progressive direction, this has been a tough week. It’s really difficult to comprehend how so many people can get so bamboozled. Right-wing crackpots have beat the drum loudly for lower taxes for the rich, less of a health care safety net, punishing hardworking immigrants, smaller “government,” and assorted “moral” causes. The messages don’t seem to me to have much content, reasonable basis, or persuasive power, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

I can see how going along with the right-wingers accords with the self-interest of the wealthy few. And I can also see how people who’ve lost their livelihoods and face economic hardship are desperate, angry, and susceptible to demagoguery. But there are lots of others — sincere, well-meaning folks who this week voted against both reason and rational self-interest. This is hard to figure. It seems that Churchill was right: democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the known alternatives.

But we survived the Homer Simpson-like sunny nuttiness of the Reagan years and the fear-mongering ignorance, cynicism, and sheer dopiness of the Bush years. As bad as the situation looks at the moment, as painful as it is to think of the triumph of organized corruption and the huge problems that will not be addressed any time soon, most of us will likely survive for a good while. People will continue to be born, grow up, get married, have kids. People will continue to fall in love with each other, with ideas, with art, and with the beauty of the world. It’s good that this is so.

So I’ve been doing a little work on my cocoon. My most prized possession, my Steinway A grand piano, needed tuning this week. For many years I wanted a Steinway, and managed to buy mine by selling my Yamaha grand and adding money I inherited when my mother died four years ago. My mom was the first person I ever heard sing or play a piano, and she sang constantly as she did housework or ran errands throughout my childhood. Along with the words of every funny camp song or show tune she ever learned (dozens or hundreds), I got from her her love of music — a great gift. I think of her with love when I think of my piano, which is every day.

My regular piano technician for the past few years, Phil Romano, has also been working as Paul McCartney’s piano tech for his concert tours. This is cool — I like having a practical musical connection to Sir Paul — but has limited Phil’s availability. Phil was headed out of town for that gig when I called him a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t work me in, so I scheduled a tuning with Richard Ruggero. Richard has a great reputation as a piano dealer and technician, and turned out to be a very nice guy. He plays the piano himself, and quickly noted three or four keys that had minor shortcomings that he could improve. I was happy with his tuning, and agreed to get him back over to work on the nits.

It is one of life’s great pleasures to play on a freshly-tuned Steinway grand. That evening, I played some of my favorite Chopin — a couple of waltzes and the etude op. 10, no. 3. Also, some of my favorite Debussy (the first arabesque) and Liszt (Sonnetto del Petrarca No. 47). I also worked a little on two current projects, Schumann’s arabeske op. 18 and Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau. All of this music is gorgeous, and some of it so transcendent that it gives me goosebumps. I felt happy.