I’m thrilled to be the new owner of a 1926 Steinway Model M grand. I’m especially excited because this piano is a dear old friend of mine, and the story behind it has some interesting connections with my life. Click “Read More” to see the story
The piano belonged to my late piano teacher, Marianne Liss. Mrs. Liss was in many ways your archetypical classical piano teacher: strict, stern, and passionate about music. She could be tough on her students, but I was lucky: she was nice to me, even when I showed up unprepared and played terribly (which was most of the time). Spending much of her time teaching small-town middle-class kids who weren’t likely to continue with music, I think she was just happy to have a student who loved music as much as she did. And even though it was clear that I was never going to be a classical pianist, she was always supportive of my musical ambitions: she and I shared a love of Glenn Gould and Oscar Peterson. I studied with her from 1985 until I went to university in 1991. All the years I studied with her, I loved her Steinway: it was a tough instrument to play well, but if you were good to it, it would really sing. I always imagined owning an instrument like that, and it became the standard by which I measured pianos in years to come.
Fast-forward to 1996. I came back to Orillia for a visit, and for the first time in a while decided to visit Mrs Liss. I introduced her to my then-girlfriend Suba, and she asked us to play for her. So, we did an improvised piano duo. Mrs Liss’ husband John and her daughter Andrea were also there. And we learned of an interesting connection. Suba’s former choir teacher in Toronto, Mary Legge, was a childhood friend of Mrs. Liss: they both grew up in Orillia. Small world! It was a little like discovering that were all, musically speaking, distantly-related. And it was wonderful to play the Steinway again.
On to 2000. Suba I and were getting married in April, so I called Mrs Liss one day in February to invite her. No-one answered. Later in the day, I got a call from John.
“It’s the strangest thing that you called today, Dylan” he said. “Marianne died this morning”.
It turned out she had pancreatic cancer, and went quickly. Suba and I married a little while later, and Mrs. Liss was sorely missed at our wedding.
Fast-forward to 2009. Suba and I had just done some home renovation, and we got hit with the idea of buying a grand piano. Music’s a pretty spiritual thing, and we both felt that whatever we bought, we’d want some sort of connection with the instrument. Of course, the first instrument that came to me was the Steinway I played for years back in Orillia. I wrote to John (I hadn’t spoken with him since Mrs Liss’ funeral), caught him up on my life over the last ten years, and asked what had happened to the piano. Turns out it went to his daughter Andrea. Disappointed, I thanked him and tried to forget about it.
A few months later I was on tour when I got an email from Andrea. “I heard you were interested in the piano. Maybe we should talk”.
When I got home, we met up. Andrea was now living in Hamilton with her husband and stepson. Though both she and her stepson played, the piano wasn’t really being used much. Andrea had been toying with selling the piano, but wasn’t sure: it was her mother’s pride and joy, and it couldn’t go to just anyone. It needed to be well-played, and well-loved. Plus, the piano was clearly choosy about who owned it: Mrs Liss herself bought it from a Catholic orphanage, and had to go through an “interview process” to buy it! Andrea and I spent our time together catching up and trading stories. I didn’t even play the piano.
We visited again: this time with Suba and my longtime friend and piano tech, Tom Lillington, and spent some time with the piano. It was in good condition, but showing its age: most of the parts were the 1926 originals. But, I could still hear the sound I remembered underneath the layers of time.
I tried out another similar-vintage Steinway a few weeks later. It was also a beautiful instrument, but completely different in sound and feel: so much so that my hands forgot what Mrs Liss’ piano felt like. So, I called up Andrea and said “could I come over tonight, please? I need to do this now, while I can still feel the other piano in my hands”. Andrea gracefully obliged. I told her I’d play for half an hour or so… I took over their living room for more like an hour and a half. And in the process, I realized I was getting to know my old friend again. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was meant to happen. Andrea agreed: “I really want the piano to go to you”, she said. We decided that it was the right thing for both of us. It was February 2010, almost exactly ten years since Mrs. Liss left us.
A couple of weeks later: moving day. As the piano left Andrea’s house and we settled up, tears welled up in Andrea’s eyes: we hugged, and parted ways. An hour later, the piano found its new home, and as the movers left (shoutout to DeHoog Piano Movers!), with this beautiful instrument in my house, I found tears in my eyes as well.
The piano loves its new home, and sounds beautiful. Tom’s going to put new strings and hammers in it, and it’ll sound even better. And it’s so good to play my old friend again… it feels like a dream come true.