The piano, a Sohmer & Company Cupid baby grand serial # 55775, was wrapped in a moving blanket and strapped on its side to a dolly. No one at the playhouse, where it had long resided, remembered it ever being upright or anything about it, just rumors of a technician’s pronouncement; “Not worth repair.” It sounded like death. It sounded like a challenge.
Eventually things come apart. They meet tragedy or lose their usefulness, at which point we dispose, transform, repair or just live with them in the inevitable decay that ensues. I wanted to take the piano apart to see what it was made of. Cataloging as a way of understanding is not new to me. I have taken things apart and numbered/categorized them before. It is methodical, slow, and a thing in itself.
It took six months to dissect the Sohmer Cupid into 502 parts: keys, hammers, strings, dampers, and many parts I had never seen before. Sometimes I questioned whether I was destroying, salvaging, archiving or something else. A what point was it a piano no more? In those months, those long hours of carefully dismantling, I laid my hands on everything and looked for the music in every part.
The hands of those who made the piano revealed themselves in the process. The 3rd key, B in the 1st octave, was signed by Miller. The 88th key, C in the 8th octave, was signed by Branig. These pencil signatures were a link to those technicians, long gone, and yet very present in the piano. I wanted to know what year these experts had put the Cupid together. With only the serial number to go by, I began researching on April 12, 2017. I discovered that the piano was made between 1920 and 1925. Through a little deductive reasoning I settled on 1923 as the year. The following day, while taking the piano action apart a little further, I discovered more penciled-in information...the words Sohmer Cupid in a beautiful hand and the date 4/12/1923, exactly 94 years before I looked for her provenance. At this point I felt I became part of the Sohmer Cupid’s story.
She was 5’4” long, 4’5” wide with a net weight of 555 pounds. She was made of antique walnut and was a Florentine model drawing inspiration from the Italian Renaissance. I don’t know who chose this Cupid model that I have come to know so well from the Sohmer’s other Cupids: the Spanish Renaissance, Queen Anne, Louis XVI, Early English, and Kensington. But I do know they paid something close to 1700 dollars for her and she was given to me for free.