Tones Heard in a Tuning

I am delighted to feature another guest post by writer Dr James Holden

The piano tuner is tuning the piano.

Downstairs, the piano tuner presses down the piano’s keys in order to tune the piano.

He presses down a key. He presses down a key.

Downstairs, the piano tuner is working his way down the keyboard, pressing down each key in turn, turning the tuning pins, tuning it. He works his way right down, pressing now the downmost keys. The downmost keys need tuning and the piano tuner is now tuning them. They need tuning as they are down in pitch. These downmost keys need tuning because they are now down in pitch, and when the piano tuner presses down the keys they beat out of time. They have a metallic clang. When the piano tuner presses down the downmost keys it now sounds like a hammer striking a bell, not a string.

Downstairs, a bell is ringing. Downstairs the piano tuner is ringing a bell, a solemn bell. The hammer strikes. The bell tolls. The hammer strikes. It is a funeral bell tolling. It is a funeral bell, the bell that tolls downstairs, like Berlioz’s bell. It is a bell that calls forth to witness. Downstairs, the downmost notes sound out the Dies Irae. It is now Berlioz’s bell.

He presses down a key. He presses down a key.

Upstairs, I’m listening to the piano tuner. I’m listening to the piano tuner tune the piano. I’m listening to him tune the piano back up to pitch. Upstairs, the piano is uppermost in my mind. I should be writing down my thoughts, but I’m not. Upstairs, I’m listening to the piano tuner tune the piano.

He presses down a key. He presses down a key.

Downstairs, the piano tuner is working his way up the keyboard, turning the tuning pins, tuning it. He works his way right up, pressing now the uppermost keys. The uppermost keys need tuning and the piano tuner is now tuning them. These uppermost keys need tuning because they need to be brought up to pitch, and when the piano tuner presses the keys they beat out of time. They have a metallic clang. When the piano tuner presses the uppermost keys it now sounds like a series of small bells.

Downstairs, bells are ringing out. Downstairs the piano tuner is ringing bells, joyful bells. The clappers clap. The bells ring. The clappers clap. And as the piano tuner rings out these bells, and as he checks his octaves, he plays a casual, coincidental Campanella to rapturous applause. These are bells that call forth to dance, to get up. The uppermost notes sound out the steps. This is now Paganini’s peal.

He presses down a key. He presses down a key.

The piano is now in tune.

Downstairs, the piano tuner has tuned the piano. Downstairs, he has pressed down each key in turn, turned the tuning pins, tuned it. The notes are now where they should always have been. They are neither up nor down but right there, right where they should always have been.

The piano is now in tune.

About the author: 

James Holden is a writer working across the critical-creative divide. He is a specialist in British and European culture from the birth of Chopin in 1810 to the death of Monet in 1926. His published work includes In Search of Vinteuil: Music, Literature and a Self Regained (Sussex Academic Press, 2010). He is currently working on a philosophical reading of romantic pianism. James also writes experimental prose and poetry. He is currently associated with the HOARD art project in Leeds. 

His website is www.culturalwriter.co.uk 

He tweets as @CulturalWriter 

 

A short film about my piano tuner Rolf Dragstra, made by his son

 

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