Hello again, I’m back! What a year! (Very original observation, I know-but hey, in 2020, it’s a universal sentiment)! While live concerts have definitely not been my focus these days due the global pandemic that is COVID-19, other interests keep me busy such as baking, art, and helping my parents renovate their house. In the meantime I rediscovered family history and quite a few old family photos from my late father (you may have seen a few already if you follow my Instagram page).

In keeping with the theme of family history and spending more time at home, I also rekindled another interest–the parlor grand piano I inherited from him. The piano is the first instrument I ever played, without counting pots and pans.

Yours truly on the parlor grand, sometime in the late ’80s

I played through elementary school and up to high school before abandoning the piano for other pursuits and sadly leaving the ivories in the dust. I fell in love with bad-boy Link Wray and his raw tremolo and reverb-fueled guitar sound in college (and anyone who knows me knows this love is forever).

Link Wray, my Guitar Man

I played ukulele, then gradually, guitar, starting when I lived in Atlanta. But now, living in a house with a beautiful old piano that stands like a great sleeping beast beckoning in the parlor—it is hard not to return to my first love. (I’m feeling all the Belle of Beauty and the Beast vibes-only this beast is mahogany with 88 musical teeth).

The history behind this antique object always fascinated me, too. It comes from the days when pianos were purchased for entertainment but also as a sign of gentility in American homes. Piano playing was a pastime mothers often desired their children to develop as a marker of respectability. Perhaps this was the intended effect my paternal grandmother, Hetty Spicer Morris, of Ponca and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, wanted for her son upon her piano purchase. Her own history is steeped in family lore, and rumor has it she was a flapper in her day with ties to Wild Western showbiz (but that’s a subject for another post). However, when it came to raising her only son Tommy, discipline and civility ruled the day.

Hetty and young Tom in Oklahoma in the 1920s-he was called “Tommy” in those days.

The parlor grand piano was originally a player piano (self-playing), and Hetty had it converted into a piano her young son could actually play. It’s a Knabe piano, made by the company started in Baltimore in 1837 by German immigrant William Knabe. I still think it’s funny that a piano originally made in Baltimore made its way to Oklahoma and is now back on the East Coast. While antique Knabe pianos are rarer to find today, and the company was purchased by Young-Chang in the 1990s, in the 1920s they reached peak status as “the Official Piano of the Metropolitan Opera.” (1.) Even Elvis had a 1912 Knabe. (2.)

I just love all the Knabe details under the piano lid:

As it turned out, in spite of Hetty’s aspirations, piano playing really wasn’t Tommy’s thing, but he kept that piano with him throughout life and as a result it’s been passed down to me. When my mother married my adoptive father after Tom passed away, and we lived the military life, the piano came with us on all our moves from Oklahoma to New Mexico to Virginia to Germany and back to Virginia again, where it now sits regally in the parlor. I’m excited to start playing again!

An aural example (I thought this theme fit the early 20th century-to-1920s era pretty well):

Until next time, E.M.

Sources cited:

  1. https://antiquepianoshop.com/online-museum/knabe/ 
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXoKkKoKolI