random piece of writing that wants to be out-and-about
The mystical crossover caught me off guard, leaving me standing there, arms hanging, in a silent battle to keep my composure. The experience was caused by a particular piece of Mr. Hu Youyi's collection of antique pianos in his museum on Gulongyu.
The piece, an automatic piano, was made in 1928 by the Haines Bros. company of New York. Its mint condition and warm sound denotes an instrument well loved through the years. Of the 70-plus pieces in the museum, our guide revealed that this unit, which rests in a private section off-limits to the public, has the best sound of them all. He wanted us to hear for ourselves. As it began its soft chords, I felt the distinctive pang of homesickness suddenly creep into my throat.
Unlike a normal automatic, this piano uses a particular kind of playing mechanism called "Ampico" and is categorized as a "Reproducing Piano". They're called such because they not only play the individual notes of whatever song has been inserted (the medium being a roll of grooved paper), but they actually reproduce the "keyboard touch" of the person who originally recorded the sheet, including the intensity with which each note was struck. This allows for perfect replication of the player's individual sound and tonal nuances. In a sense, it's not really a replication at all; nor is it a reproduction: it's the actual sound of a person playing a song on that piano at the time of recording. In this case, it was an American named J. Milton Delcamp playing his song in the late 1920s, and as he gently struck those keys, his notes struck me nearly 76 years later, on the other side of the world. Rather than sound, however, it was location that caused the mystical to occur.
The people and places of my China life belong to their own segment of my reality--one that seems non-transferable, unable to cross over to my American life. As far as its notes could reach, however, this piano was able to bridge into Gulongyu, forming a bubble of New York around itself. Upon entering there, I pleasantly ached for that place and wondered whether the player, in that far-away time, ever imagined that someday his sound would be immortalized in China. It was then that I realized the mystical effect of "place" on this listening: only by standing in that room here in China could the Haines Bros. piano, that song, and the ghost of Delcamp create what they had for me. The beauty of the moment was that the song needed China to exist as it was. In any other place, it simply would have been a different song.
The old Antico is in a marvelous setting on Gulongyu--a piano heaven--and its one warm, melancholic tune, "Salut D'Amour", will live on, sharing a kind of beauty it never could have achieved at home.