Prelude to Heaven

I don’t know what it is about her that makes me come undone. Maybe it’s our complicated history or the stifling humidity. Or maybe we’re both just showing signs of our age. But latetly she’s been bringing out the worst in me.

When we first met, I fell in love with her instantly. I was just a child then, about the age of my oldest now, when Dad found her deep in the coal region. She was a birthday present for my mom, a dream come true to a daughter, an answer to an ad in the paper for an antique upright piano. A couple Benjamin Franklin’s later and she was delivered to our doorstep.

I started lessons immediately, first with the nuns who didn’t care for my unconventional playing, then with a family friend who moved away. Next it was a university student earning extra cash, and finally, an artistic mother of a classmate. She taught me Beethoven, Mozart, Bach. I was working on Prelude in C Major when I walked to her house for our weekly lesson, when she opened the door and slurred her hello. I sat next to her on the bench, inhaling the stench of whiskey, trying unsuccessfully to avoid her body as she slouched into me while my fingers fumbled the keys. She scribbled nonsense in my notebook, and after thirty excruciating minutes, I ran to the hospital where Dad worked, where I sat confused and breathless, searching for words to explain what just happened.

That was my last piano lesson. I never practiced scales or sheet music again. I turned inward, only playing pieces I wrote myself, compositions full of teenage anxiety and emotion. Mom says she could always tell what mood I was in by what I played that day on the piano. So she became my inner voice, belting out every beat of my heart for the whole house to hear.

But then I abandoned her for another instrument, choosing to pick and strum the measures of my adolescence with an acoustic guitar instead. I didn’t know when I left for college that I might not see her again, that soon furniture would be divided, the house foreclosed, and the piano given away to a friend of Mom’s under one condition: if I ever wanted her back, she was mine.

But I wanted nothing to do with the remnants of my past. I had no need for them, no room for them in my new life far away from home. That is, until I moved back ten years later. I had a family of my own now, and some healing, and after a couple years living among the familiar places and faces of my youth, I started wondering about her, the old mahogany upright. I called my mom. She called her friend, and within days, she was delivered to my doorstep for my daughter’s birthday.

It didn’t take long to get reacquainted. And I didn’t realize how much I missed playing her. But many nights after the kids were tucked in bed, she lulled them to sleep with lullabies and love songs only my heart could compose.

This summer, after pleading since we welcomed her home, my daughters started taking piano lessons, too. A beautiful, classically trained woman from church comes to our house each week and patiently shows them things like good piano posture, the C position, and notes on the bass and treble clef. The girls love it, but when it comes to practicing, one daughter would rather make up her own music (the apple doesn’t fall far…) while the other would rather watch TV. So, sadly, a lot of tension surrounds her once again.

One night not too long ago, I was sitting on the bench, irritated and exhausted, next to the youngest pianist in the house while the dishwasher accompanied and baby brother pounded on the low notes. Husband hovered over our shoulders because we sounded more like a circus than a symphony. How could the same piano that played beautiful melodies produce such madness? And that’s when I snapped, blurting out sharp words, making what I’d read earlier that morning seem hauntingly prophetic:

Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:10).

A few days passed and a piano tuner came to take her apart and assess her condition. He told me she was flat of standard pitch and showed me where she suffered cracks along her soundboard and bridges, causing a negative effect on her overall timbre. Still, he said, she was serviceable and should do okay for the lessons. But, he continued, if either of the girls develop rapidly and really take to music, there will come a time when they become frustrated with the 107-year-old upright. That’s when he recommends moving up to a better instrument.

And I smiled, caressing her antiquated ivory keys. If only it were that easy. If only we could replace the damaged things in our life that make us broken and cracked and play off key. I’d likely be replaced before the piano. Thankfully we both still respond to some pitch-raising and fine-tuning when needed; her from a friendly piano technician, and me from the Maestro Himself. And it helps to know that even though her best days may be behind her, mine are still ahead.

We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15:51-57).

And so I sit down next to her tonight, my 1904 Peek and Son, our strings intertwined all these years, and I practice that old prelude for the first time since I was thirteen, and I swear I can almost hear the angels singing.



  1. Mitzi Norton says:

    Meg, my dear — you need to put all these compilations in a book.! Your writitng is amazing but then again. It always was wonderful.
    Love to you, Mitzi

  2. I’ve got goosebumps! Another beautiful expression of love! (I remember this piano from our Thanksgiving visit…)

  3. Oh this “resonates” with me on so many levels. I feel completely broken and cracked this past week. I can’t wait to meet The Maestro in person.

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