The Piano with the Broken Sound Board

November 25, 2016

A few months ago, our friends were moving to a smaller home and had to downsize some of their things. Coincidentally, we currently rent a bigger home than we really need, so we were the perfect match for one of their things: their beloved piano.

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This is no ordinary piano. This is a piano that my friend has had since her childhood. It has carried her through life. I have watched her own children climb to the very top of this piano to pick up a tissue, and climb back down to wipe their nose. This piano carries gravitas and it is meaningful that it is in our home.

“I don’t know much about pianos, but I’ve been told this one keeps its tune”, was my friend’s sales pitch on moving day when she had no choice but to rid of it quickly. You know, its own tune; it hadn’t been professionally tuned in more than a handful of years. None of us play (although John does have a natural ear for music, and so do our children) but a piano is never a bad thing to have in a home, and if it keeps its own tune, it surely can’t hurt. Right now we have the space. We said yes, but we couldn’t help to move it.

Our friends called some of our other friends and they all moved the piano into our home while were were out working. Dedication, I know. When we came back, there was in our living room a piece of wooden, beautiful furniture that had been loved for decades. It was like adopting an adult dog that had been well loved in its previous home and expected the same treatment in its new space. Sitting, quietly, waiting. We sat down to play the chords we knew. With absolute truth we could agree that the piano did keep its own tune, but not a tune that matched any of our other instruments. So we thought we’d better call a guy, a Piano Man.

The Piano Man came and he worked away while the kids napped. We heard noises and plucking and bung-bung-bung’s and then he called John downstairs. Evidently the piano was broken, or nearly so. Not only would it not hold its own tune, but it wouldn’t hold any tune to any instrument ever again, and the bottom half of the keys would always be more than a little ‘off’. If it wasn’t broken before the move, he was sure it had become broken during the move. We paid the man and he left us with a piano that sounded oddly worse than it ever had before.

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It sounded worse. But it felt better. Because now it cost us something. Now it was ours. Our own piano with our own broken sound board.

I decided to learn the scales. I purchased an app that matches your instrument’s tune to let you know if you played a chord or a song correctly, but it wouldn’t allow me to play even one song because it was so insistent that I needed to tune my instrument. I tried, I told my sad little iPad. I tried, but this is what we have to work with.

I deleted the app and realized I would need to learn the scales the correct way. Tone, tone, semitone. Tone, tone, tone, semitone. Fingers one, three, five. One key left for finger three and you have a minor chord. I remember this. This is hard work.

Our piano with the broken sound board was reminding me of things I learned when I was young, of things I forgot I always had in me, and yet it sounded wrong and it sounded off, but I was learning, and do you know how freeing it is to sit at a piano for hours while your children sleep and plunk away, making little melodies, realizing you can match pieces of gospel songs (or almost match them) and songs you sang in choir and little riffs from Les Mis and Joseph you learned the harmony to and may never really know the melody?

This was our piano. Set to our tune.

Our piano with a broken sound board made me think about marriage. You can see where this is going. But let’s walk the road anyhow.

We work with so many couples, beautiful couples, that bring their own whole uniquely-tuned versions of themselves into marriage. We come into marriage with the belief that we are set to our own tunes, and these are the tunes we are meant to be played at. But the move, it can change us. It can break us, a little. The first year of marriage is not easy, my friends. It is not easy, and we do not say this enough.

Moving into the first year of marriage is the point at which you realize that you must play along with another instrument. We think we know how to do this and we always believe we will do it well. There is nothing wrong with this. But taking two instruments that have been living in their own tune for so many years, and expecting them to play so beautifully together, so immediately… it can set us up for disappointment.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am for marriage. Our entire mission statement is that we believe in marriage. Because of that, we aren’t going to tell you that marriage is easy. Beautiful, yes, immensely. But not easy. We have been married for a short seven years and we can tell you that marriage is a constant tuning and re-tuning into each other, and that the breaking in the move deeper into marriage and deeper into each other can make us better for it but. It wears us in to our own version of our own song, one that isn’t meant to be played by any other instruments, and it’s beautiful because it’s our tune. It cost something and it means something because of it.

Our daughters all sit at our piano, hitting the keys and trying out melodies through the day. Sometimes their tunes sound beautiful, but they’re four and two and nine months, so their beautiful melodies can turn into smashing any eight keys at once on a dime. Their playing is unpredictable, because they aren’t trying to play together. They are playing their own melody, they are set to their own tune. The results are noisy and incoherent.

But that’s not so with marriage; when you get married, you watch what the other is doing and your goal is to work with it, you want to compliment it and make their music sound better as you play together. It takes time to learn to do this. It takes time to give up “my” melody for “our” melody and to make it sound beautiful. But you create your own version of your own song, together; one that may not sound like anyone else’s but one that will absolutely make you remember beautiful things about yourself that you always had in you.

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We live in a world where we spend more time looking side-to-side at what other people are doing, peering into their lives, instead of our own. It is easy to believe that there is a copy/paste formula that we can apply to our life and that our results will look and feel the same as it does for the family we follow on Instagram or the blog we read during our commute. But it’s just not true. My friend’s piano in my friend’s home was a different piano than mine in my home, even though it was the same piece of furniture. The sound is different. The look will probably be different, too, once our two year old takes a pen to it (which is just a matter of time).

As you prepare for your wedding – your marriage – and as you begin your first few years together, remember that you are creating your own story. A new one, one that sounds different than the rest and one that sounds (probably) different than you ever thought it would. It will be your tune, your very own, and it will result from the slight breaking in the move.

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PHOTOS AND VIDEOS & WORD CONTENT BY JOHN AND SAMANTHA BUTLER | 647.339.6755 | HELLO@JOHNANDSAMANTHA.CA

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