100-MILE BOOK CLUB: Books tune in to love for piano

Heather Allen takes a look at some of her favourite books involving an instrument she associates with fall, the piano.

If I were writing music to suit the seasons, I would use trumpets for spring, guitar for summer, and bells for the winter.

For fall, my choice would always be the piano. This may stem from childhood memories of sitting by the fire with the sound of Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations playing on the stereo, or my mom picking away at a new ragtime tune on our piano.

As much as I love listening to piano music, and tinkering away at the keyboard, I know next to nothing about how a piano actually works.

“Piano players don’t generally know about their instruments as well as other musicians,” said Andrew Wedman, a piano technician from Naramata. “Guitar players can replace their own strings. Others make their own reeds. But piano players — they’ve been told not to touch, and are even frightened to open the lid.”

To address this imbalance, Wedman, an accomplished piano technician for many celebrated musicians and experimental music artist, is offering a unique workshop later this month to explain the inner mechanisms, history and intrigue of the piano.

For me, part of understanding anything, even pianos, includes reading. One of my favourite books about the piano is the heartwarming The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart. An American ex-pat discovers a small piano atelier in Paris. Entering the shop rekindles a childhood love of the piano and awakens new fascination for the instrument. True to French form, Carhart isn’t allowed to buy one of the pianos until he has proved himself to be a worthy owner. He steps up the challenge.

One of Wedman’s favourite piano books, A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano, naturally explores how much a player relies on his technician, in this case a nearly blind tuner, to reach musical perfection.

Many good reads feature pianos. Reader favorites include: The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason, which tells of a Victorian-era piano tuner who travels from London to Burma to tune a rare piano; The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (not to be confused with The Piano Teacher by Janice Lee), and even Jane Campion’s The Piano, the film screenplay made into a novel by Campion and Canadian writer, Kate Pullinger.

Wedman’s workshop takes place on Oct. 25, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Leir House, and costs $20 per person. For more information, or to register, please contact the Penticton Academy of Music www.pentictonacademyofmusic.ca. To read more about Wedman or to listen to excerpts of his music, including shows in Berlin and Toronto on his experimental bass piano, visit his website wedmanpianotech.com.

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