A Grand Thanksgiving Story

One member of our family sits unassumingly in the corner of the living room.  Black and curvy, patient and loyal, it awaits some whiff of inspiration to bring me over to it to open its lid, sit my fingers on the keys, press out a chord, a song, a symphony.

The story of my Yamaha grand piano is a story of thankfulness.  So I thought I would share it with you today.

One day, over a decade ago, after a fairly typical worship service, someone in our congregation approached me to ask me how much a grand piano cost.  I replied that there was a pretty wide range, depending on your needs.  Tell me what you’re looking for, I offered, and maybe I could help you.

His reply took me aback.  As he was engaged in the worship that morning, he told me, a very specific idea suddenly popped into his head: We need to buy the Luz family a piano.  It was a notion so strong that he could not ignore it, so much so that he felt the need to tell his wife, who was sitting next to him.  He turned to her, but before he could say a word, she looked back at him and quickly declared, “Honey, I think we need to buy the Luz family a piano.”

A week or so later, I found myself scouring the classifieds (this was way before the internet), looking for a quality grand piano at a low cost.  One in particular caught my eye, a gray market Yamaha that was obviously undervalued, and I made an appointment to see it.  I knew something was abnormal, because the seller on the other end of the phone told me they were “interviewing” people to take the piano.

I arrived at the appointed time with my son, Justin.  Standing at the front porch of an expansive and well-appointed modern ranch home, it was obvious that the family was Japanese and well-off.  As we were invited in, my son and I instinctively took our shoes off at the door to come in (I found out later that we were the only people who took our shoes off), and we walked through a large entryway into an even larger living room.  The room was set up like a small recital hall, with four or five upright pianos along the walls.  Sitting at the front of the room were two magnificent grand pianos, a nine-foot Young Chang, and a seven-foot Bosendorfer.  The man directed us past the pianos down a hallway and into an individual practice room where the for-sale Yamaha grand sat by itself.  He told me to feel free to play it, and he would be back shortly.

The bench was creaky, the ebony body had several blemishes, the gloss had lost a little sheen, and there was a minor gash on the keyboard—it definitely showed some age.  But there was something warm and inviting about it.  Now this might not sound theologically orthodox, but I do believe that some pianos have souls.  Mine does.  And in the fifteen minutes that Justin and I were with it, I discovered it.

Thankfully, I got along extremely well with the seller—we had several points of commonality, from being an American born Asian, to having a love for music.  From our conversation, I gathered that he was an established lawyer in Sacramento and his wife taught Japanese national exchange students from their home.  The piano was a family heirloom, brought over from Japan, and had sentimental value.  They wanted it to go to a good home where it would be appreciated.  The money was secondary.  By the end of our talk, I got the feeling that he would sell it to us.  He walked us into the main room, wanting to introduce us to his wife.

I had never played a Bosendorfer before (considered one of the finest pianos made), so I respectfully asked permission to do so.  The lawyer husband thoughtfully replied, “I’d better ask my wife first.”  But he let me play the Young Chang (an exquisite piano by the way, originally purchased by the first chair cellist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, but they couldn’t figure out how to bring it up the stairs of his home), which ended up being an audition of sorts.  His wife came in—listening to me—and after being introduced with a formal bow (which we reciprocated), she allowed me to play the Bosendorfer.

When I say that the Young Chang was exquisite, I am not exaggerating.  But the Bosendorfer made the Young Chang sound just a little thin and antiseptic.  Warm, emotive, complex—playing the Bosendorfer was like the first time I had a very expensive glass of wine.  I simply didn’t know that a piano could taste that good.  Over the pianos, we shared some music and some life together.

Looking back now, I can see God’s hand upon the entire experience.  From God speaking separately and specifically to a couple of extremely generous friends, to the charming time we had with the Japanese couple, to the actual purchase of the piano—I consider it one of the most distinct and tangible and extravagant acts of grace God had ever orchestrated in my life.

And also, I would like to believe that this couple had made a good decision in selling their family heirloom to us.  The Yamaha has been a faithful part of our family, a source of artistic inspiration, and an altar for my personal worship.

Of course, not all of God’s acts of grace are quite so obvious.  In fact, most of life can seem pretty crummy and unfair.  But they are there nonetheless.  From the powder blue sky that greeted me this morning, to the laughter coming from my children in the living room as I type, to the very next breath that fills my lungs.  Life is full of reasons to give thanks to God, if you only look hard enough.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  Psalm 118 NIV

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4 thoughts on “A Grand Thanksgiving Story

  1. I love your writing style (your heart), your story (your experiences), your perception (your choices) and even your love for an object with a soul. I especially love that after being taken away to that memory, you returned to love where you are at now. It makes my heart full. Thank you

  2. Hi Manuel:

    I was referred to your blog by Randy Blasquez, a fellow artist I met online. I’m just reading backwards into your blog to get to understand a little about who you are, your perspective, and I just had to stop here.

    What a nice story this is! First, I’m an appreciator of Japanese culture and history including the aspects of honor and tradition. Second, I as a Christian, I had the blessings of a small 45″ upright being gifted to me from a small rural baptist church, an older Wurlitzer built in the 50’s. But this gift from them is so precious and allows me to once again pursue my interests in learning jazz piano! It’s a blessing from God and I’m ever so grateful!

    Last, I am a painter who struggles with the relationship between my talent as an oil painter and whether it’s appropriate from a Christian perspective to try to pursue art professionally. Randy recommended your book, which I’ve got on my Amazon wishlist and hope to read soon.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing these stories. I know we don’t know each other and all, but it’s wonderful that you are sharing your experiences like these.

    One of the things I’d like to be able to do is paint some Still Lifes with traditional Japanese furniture, ceramics, etc., but alas it’s a dream still. The beauty and simplicity in many of the traditional place settings and furniture are exquisite in their simplitcy!

    :)

    BTW…25000 blog hits for the year exceeds my visits by a factor of 10x! :) Good for you, sir! glad to see you are expanding your readership and your reach!

    1. Hi Robert. FIrst of all, you are blessed to come across Randy. She is one of my favorite artists, not just in terms of technique of artistry, but also in the spirit of her heart. Second, thank you for sharing a bit of your journey of art and faith. I do hope that “Imagine That” might help you find a vocabulary of emotion and idea that will bring congruency to your art and your faith. Please lets continue the dialogue as you read through it!

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