January 25, 2020

Interview with a Piano (and Invitation to a Birthday Party)

Dan Pardo, who will be playing the piano for the evening of the fund raiser, seated at the Mason & Hamlin. (Photo courtesy of  Deborah Rutty.)

Dan Pardo, who will be playing the piano for the evening of the fund raiser, seated at the Mason & Hamlin.  (Photo courtesy of Deborah Rutty.)

My mother was born in 1913, and so was my piano. Helen Bloom is, as we say, of blessed memory. The Mason & Hamlin baby grand remains a tool of blessed memory — allowing me and others to play the songs that my mother loved: Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” the Puccini aria “Un Bel Di” or any of the standards of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

Now that the Mason & Hamlin is about to turn a century old you are invited to something usual — a birthday party for a piano that will honor not the endurance of an instrument but a synagogue community as well, because all the proceeds go to Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester.

In keeping with the spirit of the event, I thought that I would reveal here the conversation I had recently with my old pal. After all, there is a rule in journalism — never let a piano pass the 100-year mark without an interview. And so:

LB: How do you feel at nearly a century old?

M&H: So how should I feel? My middle C is giving me fits, and my hammers have a touch of, what do you call it? — the jimjam jeeters.

LB: Oh you’re a comedian, too?

M&H: I learned from the best — Borscht Belt, you know. I was played on in the Catskills once. You been to the Catskills.

LB: This is not about me.

M&H: What? You play me all these years and now it’s not about you?

LB: Are you trying to be my mother? Stop with the guilt already.

M&H: It’s just that I’m being a little nostalgic.

LB: Yes, tell me about it. What was it like back in 1913?

M&H: An interesting time for music. Not like now. People actually played melodies in those days. Beautiful melodies. Kids. Every kid played, in the parlor.

LB: So, you were a big deal back then?

M&H: Soccer wasn’t invented yet. I mean, it was, but nobody ever heard of it in this country. So every kid played piano. And adults. After dinner families gathered around the old Mason & Hamlin (oh, there were Steinways, too, but that’s my overrated competitor, and I don’t want to talk about them.)

LB: And now?

M&H: Sometimes days, or weeks, go by and you don’t play me. What are you doing, writing books or something?

LB: I’m sorry. I’m trying to make a living.

M&H: You wrote the words to the musical while playing me. Didn’t A Woman of a Certain Age make you a fortune?

LB: It cost me a fortune. But let’s get back to the point. The party. We’ll have birthday cake and bubbly, and we’ll toast you.

M&H: Yes, and I’ll finally have someone who isn’t an amateur play me.

LB: I’m excited about Dan Pardo. Did you hear him play for us last High Holy Days at CBSRZ?

M&H: How would I go to Yom Kippur services? I’m happy here in my little corner of the world. And besides, I have nothing to a-tune for? Get it? Atone. A-tune?

LB: Well, anyway, Dan has put together a great program — music written during your lifetime, from pieces by Scott Joplin to George Gershwin to Samuel Barber to Dave Brubeck.

M&H: And you. Don’t forget something by you. Anyway, I’m excited. Actually. I know about him. He’s maybe the most talented guy ever born in Reading, Pennsylvania. And he’s been on the Goodspeed Opera House staff for three years.

LB: How do you know all this?

M&H: I read the papers. You remember those? Newspapers? Well, anyway he recently music-directed and wrote vocal arrangements for The Fabulous Lipitones, music-directed and accompanied Come From Away.  Did you see City of Angels and Show Boat (oh, do I miss Jerome Kern) — he worked that, too. And others. What a guy.

LB: Wow, you’re more than a bunch of 88 keys, mahogany and strings. You actually have a brain.

M&H: (sings) I would wile away the hours, conferrin’ with the flowers, consultin’ with the rain, and my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin if I only had a brain…

LB: OK, OK, we’ll leave the singing to Dan.

M&H: But when, where, why, when, how?

LB: Ah, you went to journalism school too? Anyway, there are two levels of tickets for the event on Sunday, August, 4, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. As this is your 100th birthday, wouldn’t it make sense to ask for a minimum donation to CBSRZ of $100 per person?

M&H: That’s a lot of money. I remember when a concert cost five bucks, and a coffee a nickel, and a two cents plain cost only…

LB: Let me guess. Two cents.

M&H: Aren’t you brilliant. Well, you really need $100 a ticket?

LB:  It will support all of the great things we do at the shul. You should see the oil bill. And we haven’t had a fundraiser for a long time.

M&H: That’s not my fault. You should have solar. And what if somebody can’t pay a $100?

LB: Well, there’s a second level of tickets. $50.

M&H: What’s the difference?

LB: Well, the house is a house, not a concert hall. So some of the seats will have obstructed views. That is, everyone will see you. But not everyone will have a clear view of Dan. People in those seats will pay a reduced rate.

M&H: What do they need to pay not to see you? A thousand? Oh, just a little joke there.

LB: Yes. Very little. But to the point. Whether people buy $100 tickets or $50 tickets or want to sponsor the event they’ll have a great time, and get their cake, too.

M&H: And how do they sign up to honor me?

LB: Call Wendy, at the office.860.526.8920.  And you look through the closet to see if you have something in ebony and ivory to wear.

M&H: I’m so flattered.

LB: Don’t be. When I was a kid, I had a player piano. It never made me work so hard. I could just turn it on and it would play, “Yes, We Have No Bananas.”

M&H: Are you trying to pull my strings?

(For more information, call Wendy Bayor, 860.526.8920 For the entire transcript of the interview with the Mason & Hamlin, you should live so long.)

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