This story was given to Steph Bradley the walking storyteller who has walked from Totnes since end March, up as far as Penrith and west to Hay on wye. She was in Stroud in early August telling a wonderful story of all the things that transitioners all round the country are doing, very inspiring, and has written lovely things about us in her blog.
The 3 piano keys will be housed with Helen Royall along with the story and brought out for transition events. Steph continues on her journey walking to Bradford on Avon with a Stroud 5 pound so they can come to meet Stroud transitioners and spend it at a future date.
The Story of the Keys
The Piano keys; a story of rebirth
These hundred year old keys were taken from a piano that was put in a field. The piano was briefly, the heart of the “Garden in Transition”, a permaculture project next to the main entrance of the Hay Festival, constructed one hot weekend by volunteers from all over the country.
There are three keys because, as everyone knows, three is a magic number. The keys form an E minor chord, G,B and E which is the first chord in the left hand of Chopin’s fourth prelude of his 28th opus, the tune that was playing in the head of the man who had the idea of putting a piano in a field at the Hay Festival. It could be the saddest and also the most beautiful tune in the world.
The piano was found upside down outside a second-hand piano warehouse where a man had left it one evening for collection. On the journey to the field in the back of an electrical contractor’s van, keys fell out of the piano, which was old and
ready to die. Once in the field it was quite clear that the piano could not serve its intended purpose, which had been to accompany workers on that hot weekend, who were building 70 metres of fencing, and a bridge made from old railway sleepers, and arranging wild flowers in giant wooden books, and laying a trail made from woodchip donated by a local tree surgeon, and putting up handstanding sculptures made from willow wrapped around steel armature, and hanging clay tablets showing David Holmgren’s 12 principles of permaculture, and constructing an entranceway made from a single bough of an ancient oak that had fallen in a storm five years before.
Nor could the piano be a hidden delight for children to discover during the festival, nor could it be played by passing musicians for the entertainment of the picnickers, readers, and dreamers who lay around on the slopes of the garden. Instead that ole Joanna had to be dismantled by hand that hot weekend and piece by piece it had to be delivered to its final resting place in the skip at the back of the site. The lid was salvaged and turned into a sign thanking people for visiting the garden. The lid was placed next to the roll of wildflower turf intended for the top of the piano – which had ended up as a mock grave whose headstone read “RIP oil dependency”.
The soundboard for the piano was nearly rescued and taken to Bristol where a permaculturist from Easton was going to turn it into a living sculpture with sweet peas growing through it. This would have closed a circle beautifully because the original inspiration for putting a piano in a field came from a community garden next to a railway station waiting room in Easton called Eastside Roots, where there is an old piano out in the open air for all to play.
After the hot weekend, which involved the unforeseen job of dismantling the piano on top of everything else, there was a phone call from the man who had donated it. It turned out that there had been a working piano waiting for collection around the other side of the building. The wrong instrument had been collected. There was a lot of laughter about this. Eventually.
Now the keys are ready to begin again. They were created at the start of an oil age, and they may yet outlive it. They carry the spirit of a garden built in a previously abandoned drainage ditch whose central feature was a willow tree that had been
blown over in a storm. One of the branches of that tree took root ten metres away from the original trunk and a new tree grew. From that new tree hung a swinging chair made out of boards reclaimed from pallets and held together with parachute
cord, and sometimes a man would sit in that chair in the middle of the newly beautiful space, listening to music only he could hear.