Finishing on a Low Note

I usually associate “finishing” with sporting events. Think about the finish line of a car race, the eighteenth hole of a golf tournament, or the ticking seconds of the clock as a football game runs out of time. In these scenarios, the finish can be a tense, hold-your-breath moment, triggering a burst of euphoria if your favorite takes the win. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to reflect on the completion of my Lego Grand Piano. Tense? Hardly. Held my breath? Not at all. Euphoria? Anything but. No, this finish feels a little forlorn.

Three thousand, six hundred, and sixty-two tiny pieces ago, I began the assembly of Lego’s Grand Piano, just about the closest gift to “perfect” my wife has ever given me.  Piano is inextricably connected with my childhood – hours upon hours of practice and playing and determined progress at a tender age, eventually succumbing to other temptations of time.  Piano introduced me to commitment, skill, and patience, even frustration and disappointment.  My parent’s big, black grand sat patiently in our living room, beckoning me to play every time I passed by.  The instrument was always perfectly tuned and sparklingly clean, thanks to my mother’s weekly persistence with a dust cloth.  I can still hear her sweeping the eighty-eight keys from one end to the other – a delightfully musical moment.

Korg’s “Sampling Grand” keyboard

Believe it or not, the Lego Grand Piano is the second gift of a piano from my wife.  On our wedding day in 1987, she presented me with Korg’s “Sampling Grand”, an electronic keyboard with weighted keys and surprisingly realistic sound, much less expensive than the real thing.  Thirty-five years later, the Korg still plays like a champ and still earns a spot in our living room. (Unlike the Lego version, the Korg was already assembled when I got it.)

The start-to-finish journey of my Lego Grand Piano has been a more enjoyable ride than I expected.  When I opened the box last Christmas, I remember my jaw dropping a little, not only because I never saw the gift coming but because of the sheer complexity of the project staring up at me from the box  That’s a complicated-looking instrument, I thought.  That’s a ton of pieces, I also thought.

The unopened Lego box sat on my home office desk for a couple of weeks, looking elegant without even being touched.  My curiosity eventually got the better of me and I finally had a look inside.  Talk about intimidating.  A 500-page instruction manual awaited, along with forty-odd individual bags of pieces.  Even though this was a twenty-one-step journey, some steps involved “sub-bags” of tiny, tiny pieces, grouped separately so as not to escape!  Was I really brave enough to dive into this mess?

Contents of the box

The first chapter – shared with you readers on January 6th of this year (a date we Americans wish to forget) – spoke to my hesitation when I wrote an entire post about building the piano without actually building anything.  I just poked around the box and marveled at the contents and felt pretty good about even opening up the box.  But I did get started seven days later, and the subsequent journey was wholly satisfying and something of a weekly escape.

Leftovers

At first, I made several mistakes as the piano began to take shape.  Since the pieces are small it’s easy to place them backward, or even mistake one for another.  I also fretted when extra pieces remained after a given section of the build. (For the record, there were 38 extra pieces when all was said and done.  I can fit all of them into the palm of my hand.)  There were at least two instances where I had to disassemble several pieces to get back to the point where I’d done something wrong.  Those moments were utterly unnerving and confidence-shattering (take your pick).

[Author’s Note: After weeks and weeks of building the Lego Grand Piano, it only now occurs to me I’m describing one type of keyboard while typing on another. Don’t you just love the coincidence?]

So let’s finish this post by revisiting “finishing”.  What should be a moment of triumph feels a tad sad instead.  After the first few weeks, the build of the Lego Grand Piano became a weekly treat, accompanied by some of my favorite classical music.  Many stages were mini-surprises, not knowing what section I was building until the last piece was in place.  And of course, sharing the progress with all of you was also fun.  One reader admitted she would first scroll to the bottom of a post before reading my weekly topic.  She couldn’t wait to find out how the piano was coming along.

So, here we are now, finally done.  Next week’s post will feel a little empty without a reference to the Lego Grand Piano.  By total coincidence, my daughter got married this past weekend, also the end of a journey (months of planning and all).  My son just turned 30 yesterday, the finish line of his 20’s.  And soon, my wife and I will point our cars east for our move to South Carolina, the finish of our days in Colorado.  To be finished is to be sad?  You bet it is.

I’ll dive into another Lego build one of these days, I promise.  Maybe I’ll even take you along for the ride again.  In the meantime, I’ll flip the hidden switch and play the piano every now and then.  I’ll also find an acrylic box in which I can display this magnificent project.  After all, with my mother’s good habits in mind, I don’t want it gathering dust.

——————–

Lego Grand Piano – Update #21

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

The finále of the Lego Grand Piano assembly, as expected, was the build of the pianist’s bench and the placement of the sheet music onto the stand.  Bag #21 – of 21 bags of pieces – was bigger than I expected.  I mean, a bench is a seat with four legs, right?  Not according to Lego.  This bench raises and lowers with the little dials you see on the sides, to accommodate the height of our fictitious pianist.

       

Let’s give credit where credit is due.  The Lego Grand Piano was designed by the guy you see below, Donny Chen, a 33-year-old piano teacher and tuner from Guangzhou, China.  No surprise, Donny’s passions are the piano and Lego.  He’s a lot smarter than I am, evidenced by this quote: “I’ve always seen toys as something to be imagined, not just played with”.  Me, I just played with toys.

[Pianist’s Note: The Lego Grand Piano DOES play, I know it does.  I just have to figure out two things.  One, how did I manage to disconnect the cable to the sound box buried deep within the piano frame?  Two, how the heck am I going to get it reconnected?  That’ll take more time than I have today and is part of why I “finished on a low note”.  But I’ll share a concert with you when you least expect it – I promise. “Stay tuned”.]

Donny Chen

Running Build Time: 14.0 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Jarratt and Reedman’s Hooked on Classics. Leftover pieces: 1

Conductor’s Note: Apologies to the purists but I just couldn’t resist this somewhat tongue-in-cheek accompaniment to the final chapter of the Lego Grand Piano.  Hooked on Classics is a top-ten Billboard Hot 100 hit from 1981, a mashed-up perversion of bits of the world’s most recognized classical pieces… overlaid on a drum track.  It was recorded by Louis Clark and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and bred several spin-offs (ex. Hooked on RomanceHooked on Classics came along just as I was wrapping up my childhood piano “career”.  I much prefer the originals of the several classical pieces in Hooked but maybe this peppy number is your cup of tea.  Have a listen:

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

25 thoughts on “Finishing on a Low Note

  1. Your line about “describing one type of keyboard while typing on another”, coupled with “I’ll dive into another Lego build one of these days, I promise” made me think that you should now do the reverse! Get ahold of the Lego typewriter kit (https://www.lego.com/en-us/product/typewriter-21327) and work on that while playing your Korg. You may have to buy one on eBay or something (the kit is “temporarily out of stock” on Lego.com; who knows if it’ll ever come back in stock) but it’d be worth it. Or, if the typewriter (which has fewer pieces than your piano) is not enough of a challenge, how about building the Titanic (https://www.lego.com/en-us/product/lego-titanic-10294) while watching the movie in installments… 😎

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll be looking around for another Lego project, that’s for sure. I may not find one as satisfying as the Grand Piano, but I’m sure there’s another adventure worth blogging about!

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  2. Congratulations. Your finished Lego piano is a work of art, a labor of love, and downright cute. Oh my gosh I remember Hooked on Classics. What a throwback for me. I studied violin as a child, learned the same things as you did from your piano lessons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My mother – smart woman that she was – insisted my brothers and I start with the piano before graduating to any other instrument, simply to understand the basics of music and sight-reading. I never “graduated” so piano became a major part of my childhood. I admire anyone who can play stringed instruments, Ally, esp. the violin. So much more difficult than the piano.

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  3. Good job! How fun to see the completed piano after all these weeks Dave. I even noticed the casters on the piano legs in the top picture – didn’t notice that before. Also how clever that the piano bench raises up and down. I am sending this post to a fellow blogger who is a pianist. She will enjoy reading it too. I took accordion lessons for three years, from age 7 to 10, but when we moved to the U.S. there was no accordion instructor to be found so I never mastered “Lady of Spain” and my studies stopped then. I spared my parents that noise as I am sure they tired of hearing me practice the scales and whatever song the instructor chose for that week’s lesson. We gave recitals in nursing homes too, so we had a “set list” to learn. I remember “Hooked on Classics” but I wouldn’t have remembered the year it came out.

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    1. The details and the accuracy of the Grand Piano are remarkable, Linda. They wanted this model to look like the real thing. I can’t imagine finding another Lego project as satisfying but I’ll be looking one of these days.

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  4. Congratulations! I’ve been following your progress. It’s a beauty! Wondering about the extra pieces… My late husband once rebuilt his old VW engine and ended up with a box of extra parts. But the car ran fine, so he didn’t worry about it. Years on he gave the car to his brother who later sold it. The guy who bought it came over to get the box. It’s the heating system, he said. Never worked anyway, was my husband’s response.

    I looked up the Lego typewriter kit mentioned by another blogger. It actually works. Would love to see you make that one, and as one who writes, it seems appropriate!

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  5. Thank you, Ruth. Piano’s connection with my childhood makes the Grand perhaps the most fitting of any models Lego has to offer. Having said that, I’ll shop around to see what my options are for building another one. I enjoyed spreading out the assembly over so many weeks, and including the progress in my blog. My niece – who collects typewriters – has the Lego version but I’m not sure she’s started it yet. My brother says it’s a tough one to come by (discontinued). As for the extra parts, a good friend said it’s typical of the Lego kits. Glad he spoke from experience, as the first time I ended up with a few extras I thought I’d missed a step!

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  6. Congratulations Dave! That is truly amazing. I can’t even imagine 3600 lego pieces. I’m a bit worried though about the sound cable – will it mean having to take some of it apart to find it? Is that even doable?
    I remember that Hooked on Classics album and have it in the basement somewhere with my album collection.
    Linda and I were discussing how we sometimes don’t get notice of your replies to our comments – does anyone else mention this? Not all the time, just occasionally, so if I don’t reply to your comment I didn’t see it. I almost didn’t see this blog either, that’s why I’m late. I’ve always wanted to visit South Carolina – to me it would have the perfect weather – warm but not too hot like farther south. You’ve hitting a lot of milestones.

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  7. I’ve decided to table the piano “fix” until we’re in South Carolina in a couple of months, Joni. Too much going on with the move right now. Yes, I’ll need to break into the frame to see if I can get the cable reattached but it’s not as destructive as it sounds. Still looking forward to hearing its music!

    Notifications on comments and replies seem to be hit or miss on WordPress. I follow Nancy’s “From the Inside Out” and it seems to be the one blog where I never get notified when she replies to my comments. I always get notified on yours and on Linda’s. I will say, however, after the first comment and reply, there are no notifications. If you start a “dialogue” with a single reader through comments (as I’ve seen in yours), WP doesn’t keep track of the conversation. It’s strangely inconsistent and I’ve tried adjusting settings to make it better. Also, I sometimes wonder if a “late” comment is seen or notified at all. I get behind on reading every now and then and my comments – posted, say, a week after the publication – aren’t acknowledged. No matter; we seem to be sustaining a pretty good virtual “social life” anyway 🙂

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    1. That’s strange. I did get a notification that you LIKED my comment but no notification of the comment itself, but I know now to check your blog. I wonder how many other comments from people I miss…..

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  8. Congratulations Dave!
    It came out amazing! It truly shows the power of persistence, one at a time, and reading instructions.
    I have faith that you will figure it out how to play it soon. Even if it never plays, it is already a masterpiece in my book!
    Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Ana. It turned into quite the little adventure by dragging out the build over five months and sharing my weekly progress on WordPress. Also, it’ll be hard to find another Lego project with as much sentimental value.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Congrats on finishing! Somehow I missed this post and when I read your next post I thought “What, no piano!”
    I remember ‘Hooked on Classics’. I wonder how many people developed an interest in classical music when they listened to this compilation!

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    1. Thanks, Margy! Hooked on Classics hit me at the right age (as a teenager). Today I’d be offended at its “disrespect” for classical music but as a kid I thought it was cool and unique.

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      1. Great article, Margy – thanks! I forgot about ELP’s spin on Aaron Copeland. My brother listened to a lot of ELP when I was a kid so I became a fan of progressive rock by default. I love how Copeland overruled the copyright concern and let ELP go ahead with “Fanfare”. A man ahead of his time.

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  10. It’s a good thing you finished the piano when you did – I don’t think a partially-built piano kit would be a great thing to try to move a long distance. And goodness – a kid’s wedding and a long distance move! If you are contemplating any major life changes, this would probably be the time.

    My mother said the same thing about learning to read music through piano lessons. I only took lessons for a couple of years, but when I later took up the trombone, I had a revelation: One single note was so much easier to read than six or eight at a time as on a piece of piano music. And I remember Hooked On Classics very well. I was kind of like you, I preferred the originals but I guess any way classical music could get some popular exposure was a good thing.

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    1. Hadn’t thought about it, JP, but the piano project would’ve taken a major break if we’d had to load it into the moving truck. Maybe I wouldn’t have found it again for months. Instead, it’ll find its way to my future home office soon, and maybe even play a tune someday if I can get that cable reattached.

      I’ll always be grateful to my mother for pushing piano and classical music at such a young age.

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  11. Kudos for finishing the piano–now we need a little concert! (Never satsified, are we.) Can you believe I never heard that Hooked on Classics piece?! The beat sounded like the aerobic music I used to exercise to in the 1980s. Would have like this one in my repertoire for variety!

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