Driving around the Hudson River Valley every day, I see lovely views around each corner. The mountains, trees, Hudson River, and apple orchards are beautiful in every season.
I also see this house every day on my commute to work, not particularly beautiful, but the upright piano outside the front porch of this abandoned house haunts me.
I don’t know how long this house and property has been abandoned, it looks like years. The farmhouse might have been built in the early 1900’s, a time when many families had upright pianos in their parlor and gatherings frequently ended in an impromptu concert around the piano. Making music was important at that time but sheet music was expensive for a popular song, selling for as much as $2.00, which is equivalent to $54 today.
After 1900, cheaper ways to print music were found and the twenty-five cent song sheet was introduced. Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” became the first Ragtime composition to become a sheet music best-seller, and American music and ragtime were on everyone’s soundwaves.
Consider that a piano like the abandoned one sitting on this porch might have cost $400 during that time, as shown in this receipt on the left. In 1900 an average annual salary was $450 – can you imagine spending your annual salary on a musical instrument? Music in the home was a valuable part of making a good life for your family.
Today that upright piano continues to molder away on the porch, exposed to the four seasons of the Hudson Valley. The musical gatherings around the piano are a memory for our local elders and maybe that’s what haunts me the most.
This is a beautiful elegiac piece. I do miss the idea that music is something we can all make and enjoy together – not just the domain of a few.