The Piano

By Lucinda Coleman; 10 October 2011

What do you do with something that used to be functional and beautiful but is no longer seen to be so? Mostly we seem to throw away remnant materials because it’s so hard to work with left-over pieces.

A few years ago I moved to Perth, bringing my grandmother’s piano with me. I had learnt to play on this small upright Gulbransen and although it was so old each note had to be tuned a semi-tone lower than it should be, I loved it because it belonged to my dad’s mum. The black keys were worn and the ivory ones chipped. To this day I sing a semi-tone out: proudly and happily flat.

The piano tuner in Perth was blunt: take it to the dump. Don’t waste your money. It’s junk now. It can’t be tuned. I cried a bit and sighed a lot. What do you do with something that used to be functional and beautiful but is no longer seen to be so?

During this time I had begun working with a few dancers; random connections leading to a collective of artists. Each individual was uniquely gifted and had diverse and interesting experiences as performers. But one felt too old. One felt too young. Another was incredibly busy. Another was just starting her own business. Yet another lived inter-state and how do you work across distances?

We began to create with what we had; bringing who we were to make: connecting with each other and attracting other independent performance artists who also wanted to create, make and connect.

We had my old piano. So we pulled it apart to create a new story. My children helped tear strings from the back, lever out keys and unscrew panels of timber. I winced as it came apart. The children were enthusiastic! The remnant artists were curious.

One artist took away the pieces of the piano to make dance costumes. Another artist began composing music on her own piano. I began to choreograph with the dancers and then worked with a film-maker to shoot a short dance film about how a mother tells her daughter the story of her grandmother, using the piano and the dancers as the embodiment of melody, family and history.

We were invited to share the story of making new music at a primary school in Perth and so installed and preformed a 30 min work using the pieces of the old piano, and the dancers, dressed in remnants of the old piano. The response was extraordinary!

Grade 3 students’ comments included:‘Liked the jumping on tables’ – Theo, ‘Very creative’ – Brendon, ‘Liked the girl being carried’ – Kartikeya, ‘Unexpected’ – Rory, ‘Colourful costumes’- Nathaniel.

Grade 1 students’ comments included:‘Very beautiful’ – Lachlan, ‘Very clever’ – Nicholas, ‘Very fast dancing’ – Darcy, ‘Fantastic’ – Tom, ‘Best dancers I’ve seen’- Nic, ‘Funny when they jumped on the tables’ - Anish.

So we have continued to create work to share: to tell new stories using remnant artists and the left-over pieces of many things that used to be functional and beautiful but are no longer seen to be so.


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