The Old Upright Piano

It stood alone in the alley out behind the concert hall, waiting to be hauled away, but even those who took old pianos didn’t want this one. 

The accumulated weather of several seasons, the intense sunshine, rains and snows, had all taken their sadistic toll, clawing and abusing it. The veneer had cracked and peeled and children had pried most of the ivory from the keys as trophies of their discovery. Pigeon droppings stained it much like the statues in the park across 57th street. The sound board and strings had long before warped and sagged, giving mournfully distorted, minor tones when the garbage man would run his hand up the keys. It certainly could not be considered a valuable antique.

Oh, the old upright had, to be sure, seen its days of glory. From the early raucous years of its youth, playing in the barroom, to the main background music at the vaudeville theater all those seasons, to the occasional concert when a true pianist visited town; yes, the old piano had been there, eager to perform. But now it was a relic, useless junk, abandoned; replaced by the beautiful new Steinway Grand on the stage inside.

Several weeks later the local newspapers announced that arrangements had been made for the greatest pianist of all time to come to America and perform at the very same New York concert hall where the old upright sulked in the alley.

But the pianist’s visit was complicated by a most unusual twist. A former student of the master, a proud and arrogant young man, had issued a challenge; a piano duel to show the world who, in fact, was the greatest pianist of all time; the student or the master.

The plan was to have twin Grand pianos on stage, one for each man. Music would be agreed on beforehand and then each pianist would play; the former student first, the master last. Judges had been selected and the audience approval would also be taken into consideration for the final decision.

When the old master arrived in town he asked to be taken to the theater to examine the setup for the upcoming event. Everything seemed to be suitable. Before being taken back to his hotel, the elder gentleman, out of curiosity, swung open the back door to the alley. When he spied the old upright, awaiting its fate, he couldn’t resist. He descended the stairs and looked over the piano lovingly. He then tried his hand at the keyboard. In an instant it was settled in his mind.

He ordered the Steinway he was to play for the duel to be moved off the stage and the old barroom upright to be brought in from the alley in its place. “Don’t touch it, I’ll play it just as it is,” he said. The theater manager and the others were overwhelmed. It was impossible. The master, as good as he was at the keyboard, could never win the competition playing the old broken piano. It was an absurd idea.

The master told them he would return Friday to tune it himself and ordered that the old upright was to be kept covered until the concert Saturday evening. He swore the manager and stage hands to secrecy.

Finally the evening of the big event arrived. The challenge of the piano duel was announced and introductions were made. The younger man was dressed in a fine white tuxedo trimmed in gold. He wore white gloves and a white top hat. He took the stage with a flamboyance overflowing with haughtiness and pride.

The piano master, on the other hand, was dressed in a simple unpretentious tweed suit, indistinguishable from any businessman on the street, and conveyed himself with upmost modesty and grace.

The judges simply shook their heads. They had never seen the Master perform in anything but his classic black tux. The audience of ardent concert goers smiled, feeling that perhaps the older artist was pulling a prank. Many wondered what he had up his sleeve.

The music that had been agreed upon for the evening was a medley of easily recognizable classic pieces from Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Gershwin and such.

As planned, the young pianist bowed again to the audience and judges, sat at the Steinway, then launched into the piece. Numerous times his skill brought nods of approval from the judges and applause from the audience. When he finished his performance he stood and bowed deeply to a standing ovation. He glanced at the old master standing off stage and nodded with a barely distinguishable smirk and a slight blink of his eyes, as much as to say, “Beat that, old man.”

Several wiser heads, however, thought what a wonderful teacher this young man must have had. Too bad he is so proud and mechanical in his performance. It’s a shame he doesn’t have heart.

After all had settled back into their seats the master came onto the stage. He bowed, then, without a word, slowly pulled the cover from the old upright. Gasps came from the audience when they saw the dilapidated piano, then snickering. Some laughed outright, assuming this all was some kind of Victor Borge comedy routine.

But when the aged master began to play it soon became obvious that the teacher was sharing his heart with the audience through the voice of the old piano. Both judges and patrons quickly realized that they were experiencing something truly extraordinary. As the master went deeper into the music the audience found that he was weaving in strains of Amazing Grace and other familiar old gospel songs. And he played in such a way as to cover any of the old piano’s faults and weaknesses.

Those in attendance became so lost in the beauty of the music that not a sound could be heard other than the voice of the piano. And the beautiful music the master drew from the old upright was as though it was his own voice, singing to the heart of each listener.

When he finished playing, there was but little applause. Judges and patrons all, with tear-filled eyes, recognized that they had been permitted that evening to hear the true master; the greatest pianist of all time. Hearts were touched deeply and lives were forever changed in that concert hall that night.

About now I assume some might be thinking, Nice story, but what’s your point? A few might have guessed the identity of the main characters in the story. For those of you who are wondering, here they are: First, The old master is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. The proud brash young student is Satan. The old upright piano would be any true Christian, cast off by the world.

Of course the old piano will only yield beautiful music if played by the Master. Problem is, there are many Christian leaders and even Christian laymen and women who have been deluded into thinking they need to be the Steinway grand. Sad to say, some have even fallen into the trap of thinking they are the showman like Satan himself, raking in the dollars and “playing” for their pride.

What Christians need more than anything is to realize that each of us is an old barroom upright, reduced to junk by seasons of sin, brought into the concert hall to be tuned and used by the Master. Only then will they ever know the sweet music the Lord can bring from their life to benefit others.

And that, dear Christian, is the point! Why not go to Christ today and ask what beautiful music He has in store for your life. Ask Him to tune you and use you to bring the sweet sound of God’s saving gospel to someone today.

Lord bless and guide you,

Carl and Sue Peters

About Carl Peters

Carl Peters set his hand and heart to write in the early ‘90s, producing three novels and one novella through those years. Due to discouragement and a business venture or two, he put his love for words, and his novels, on the shelf for a few years. Midway through the last decade Carl, then in his mid 60s, made the decision to again take up the electronic pen, dust off the old manuscripts, and spin the merry go round one more time, this time reaching eager readers through the marvel and openness of digital publishing. Several years ago Carl lost his sweet wife of 47 years to cancer. The road would have been hard and lonely without her, had it not been for their five children and nine grandchildren, who have both comforted him and kept him running at full speed! On January 12th, 2011 the Lord brought Carl a sweet new bride. This pair is as opposite as “night and day” (oh my, a cliche) but with the Lord between them, holding their hands, they are perfect for one another! More about this couple in their blog and also in a forthcoming novel. And life goes on.
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