Holding the arms of his helper, the blind
Piano tuner comes to our piano.
He hesitates at first, but once he finds
The keyboard, his hands glide over the slow
Keys, ringing changes finer than the eye
Can see. The dusty wires he touches, row
On row, quiver like bowstrings as he
Twists them one notch tighter. He runs his
Finger along a wire, touches the dry
Rust to his tongue, breaks into a pure bliss
And tells us, “One year more of damp weather
Would have done you in, but I’ve saved it this
Time. Would one of you play now, please? I hear
It better at a distance.” My wife plays
Stardust. The blind man stands and smiles in her
Direction, then disappears into the blaze
Of new October. Now the afternoon,
The long afternoon that blurs in a haze
Of music…Chopin nocturnes, Clair de lune,
All the old familiar, unfamiliar
Music-lesson pieces, Papa’s Haydn’s
Dead and gone, gently down the stream…Hours later,
After the last car has doused its beams,
Has cooled down and stopped its ticking, I hear
Our cat, with the grace of animals free
To move in darkness, strike one key only,
And a single lucid drop of water stars my dream.
~Gibbons Ruark “The Visitor”
When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother’s piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold
And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying
Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country
I’ve never understood
Why this is so
But there’s an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow
For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest
And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country
We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams
And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows
Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.
~Anne Porter “Music” from Living Things
I learned today that John Grace recently died at age 92; John was the blind piano tuner who tended and tuned our family’s old Kranich & Bach baby grand through the 60’s and 70’s until it moved with me to Seattle. When I saw his photo online in The Olympian newspaper, it took me back sixty years to his annual visits to our home, accompanied by a friend who drove him to his jobs, who guided him up the sidewalk to our front door and then waited for him to finish his work.
I was the 8 year old reason my great Aunt Marian had given us her beloved piano when she downsized from her huge Bellingham house into an apartment. I was fascinated watching John make the old strings sing harmonically again. He seemed right at home working on the innards of our piano, but appeared to truly enjoy ours, always ending his tuning session by sitting down on the bench and playing a familiar old hymn, smiling a broad smile.
There was no doubt his unseeing eyes made him a great piano tuner. He was fixed on the unseen, undistracted by what was unimportant to his job. He could “feel” the right pitch, not just hear it. He could sense the wire tension without seeing it. He touched the keys and wood with reverence, not distracted by the blemishes and bleaching in the mahogany, or the chips in the ivory.
I learned something about music from John, without him saying much of anything. He built a successful business in our town during a time you could count the black citizens on one hand. He spoke very little while he worked so I never asked him questions although I wish I had. It was as if he somehow transcended our troubled world through his art and skill. Though blind, when he was with a piano, he could move freely in the darkness, hearing and feeling what I could not. Perhaps it was because he was visited by a beauty and peacefulness we all long for, seen and unseen.
It occurs to me now, sixty years after observing him work, John Grace was just a step ahead in recognizing the voice of Jesus in our midst through the music he made possible.
Though he was blind, there is no doubt in my mind – he could see.
Yea when this flesh and heart shall fail
And mortal life shall cease.
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
articles about John Grace:
This year’s Barnstorming Lenten theme is taken from 2 Corinthians 4: 18:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.