Turning Sour Notes Into Whiskey Sours

By Katherine Kerr, APR

In the front room of our home sits what I used to consider an instrument of torture. It is about three and a half feet tall, over four feet long and two feet deep. It is made of wood and has bits of metal and pieces of ivory.

It is the plain, innocent-looking upright Baldwin piano bought by my grandparents for my Dad when he was a kid and thought he wanted to learn to play. In short order, he changed his mind, stopped taking lessons and briefly took up tap dancing.

When my parents married, the piano was moved to their home.

Back in the 1960s lots of parents signed up their children for piano lessons. I would see their kids before and after my piano lessons. I would see the kids and their proud parents at piano recitals. Many of those kids pounded and played their way through classical music scores. I was stuck year after year in the same books, never progressing because I never practiced, never cared.

My piano teacher was a lovely widow lady, Mrs. Bair, who lived across the street. She knew early on that I had neither talent nor interest in piano. But, as long as my mother paid for lessons and I reluctantly trudged across the brick street she did her darnedest to impart her passion for music to me.

Every time I sat down though, it was evident I had not opened the music since the previous lesson. I hit the cracks between the keys more than solid notes. Lack of practice and an inability to keep time massacred most compositions.

Whining, sulking, refusing to practice and “forgetting” lessons didn’t deter my mother.

She believed that one day my inner musician would burst forth so she kept encouraging (pestering) me. As we would enter the Colonial Cafeteria and walk past the lounge lizard playing on the piano in the corner, she would point to him and say, “Someday, you could do that!”

Are you kidding?

Why on earth would I ever aspire to play a piano in a cafeteria frequented by the after-church crowd?

Finally in my seventh unproductive year  — my jubilee year — of lessons, Mrs. Bair spoke to my mother. Mercifully for both of us, the lessons ended.

In the following years the piano sat in the laundry room, attracting paper, pens, pencils and other odds and ends. Occasionally Dad would go in, lift the cover over the keys and play a handful of the tunes he had taught himself. I loved listening to him play the same songs over and over. My favorite was one I called the “ballet song” because it sounded like beautiful dancers gracefully spinning across a stage. I later learned it was “Autumn Leaves.”

After my father died, Mother shipped the piano to me, ignoring my protests that I didn’t want it. Never in the 50 years of my life had the piano been tuned. Hitting just a few keys made that obvious.

For about 10 years, I resented the piano taking up space in my front room, collecting dust and mockingly reminding me of my failed musical career.

Then, one night, while watching the TV show Pawn Stars, a solution appeared. A seller had brought in a “prohibition piano,” an instrument gutted and remodeled to hide liquor inside it.

That was the answer to my problem! I enjoy adult beverages and if I could get my piano converted, that would be music to my ears.

I found photos online of other pianos that had been converted and showed them to my neighbor, who happens to be a gifted carpenter. Fortunately, he likes a challenge. We agreed on a price and hauled the piano over to his shop.

Piano BarA couple of months later, I had a beautiful and unique hospitality center. My neighbor and his wife even patched up the piano leg that had been gnawed by Sugar, my childhood mutt.

We had a “piano bar” party to show off our repurposed musical instrument. Friends think I have a very cool piece of functional furniture that gets a lot more use than it did before.

My mother was not happy with the redo. I think she thought it in some way dishonored my dad, who was a teetotaler. I believe he would have said ‘good on you,” for not feeling like I had to keep it as a shrine to him.

The lessons learned are:

If your kids tell you that they don’t like doing something year after year, don’t make them do it! However, if you sign them up for a season of soccer and they decide they don’t like it after the first game, make them finish the season because they have a responsibility to their team. But don’t sign them up for the next season.

Alter your perspective about a problem and view it as an opportunity. It’s never too late to rewrite or rework a negative and make it something of joy.

In my case, I remixed sour notes into whiskey sours.


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