The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Put harmony back in the Hut

Unless you’re Tom Waits or an experimental composer like John Cage, there are few bleaker prospects than sitting down to a piano that has fallen hopelessly out of tune. It clunks when you want it to roar, it chirps when you want it to chime, and before you know it, you find yourself moodily stalking off not having played a note of Bohemian Rhapsody. This is why, as most musicians at Guilford are aware, that the majority of the pianos across campus offer little in the way of musical fulfillment, be it their location, their state of tuning, or some confounding combination. Of course, there is always the Dana collection, but that is generally exclusive to music majors and not terribly accessible even then. Not everyone that cares about pianos is a music major. So do we eliminate the keys at the obvious risk of security? No, too revolutionary. Wait, I have it – hire a piano tuner!

Pianos need to be made more accessible to all of the students of Guilford, so whether you are in the common room of Shore, or sitting in the Hut, the prospect of musical discovery is never far away.

Both locations mentioned have pianos, the problem is that one sounds like Sylvia Plath’s angry ghost, while the other sounds like it fell off the chuck wagon that the first Quakers rode in on and nobody’s bothered to tune it since. Both locations are also commonly used as hang out spots. Alas, people would sooner use those old clunkers for coasters or beer pong tables than gather around them for a good old-fashioned sing-along.

This painful truth bothered me so much that I went to Max Carter, whose office contains one of these sad musical specimens, looking for answers and perhaps a little solace. Unfortunately, he could offer me little more than this dispiriting back-story.

“The piano in the Hut was donated by Chelle Stinson, a graduate of Guilford in the early 90s,” said Carter. “It was pretty old when we got it. We had tuned it each year for several years, and each time the tuner said that it wasn’t much worth it – as it would quickly go out of tune, the innards were so worn.”

A hand me down. A reject. A throwaway. Like a horse that’s too decrepit to do much but collect sighs and sympathy. Is this what’s become of Guilford’s commitment to the musical arts? Perhaps an episode from the aimless Wednesday afternoon wanderings of Kid, the Guilford College every-student, would illustrate my point:

Kid walks into The Hut. Kid sees piano. Kid has never played piano, but maybe Kid is interested in trying. Kid sits down. Kid plays a few keys. “Yuck!” says Kid, “if this is what a piano sounds like, why bother?”

Indifference can be contagious. If left unchecked, this apathetic domino effect could yield unpleasant results, especially for those who don’t want the musical atmosphere of this school reduced to the occasional Friday night drunken strum-and-drum.

Of course, guitars and djembes are generally low upkeep instruments, whereas the maintenance of just a single piano can be a costly undertaking. Given assumed budget limitations for non-Dana pianos, it is understandable why the one in Boren lounge seems to be the only piano that is tuned, especially when the other pianos are viewed as money holes by the administration.

“When Guilford was going through its financial crises of the early 2000s, I decided that one of the cost-saving measures campus ministry could take was not tuning the piano, given how quickly it would go out of tune anyway,” said Carter of the piano in the Hut.

Well, it’s 2007, and students are still forced to play these old clunkers. While these neglected pianos aren’t yet on the school’s list of budget priorities, let’s not allow this to serve as the death knell of musical diversity at Guilford. We cannot allow dissonance to stand in the path of musical development. Tuners are overrated; ask any of the greats – the aforementioned Tom Waits, Bjork, Captain Beefheart, Lou Reed – they didn’t let dissonance slow them down.

And, for some people, the concepts of key and pitch are lost both semantically and sonically, leaving them quite content with the situation.

“I have no musical ear, so when people are plunking away on (that piano) even to this day, it sounds like fine music to me!” said Carter.

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