My mother was born in 1913, and so was my piano. Helen Bloom is, as we say, of blessed memory. The Mason & Hamlin baby grand remains a tool of blessed memory-allowing me and others to play the songs that my mother loved: Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust," the Puccini aria Un Bel Di, or any of the standards of the '30s and '40s.
Now that the Mason & Hamlin is about to turn a century old you are invited to something usual-a birthday party for a piano that will honor not the endurance of an instrument, but a synagogue community as well, because all the proceeds go to Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek (CBSRZ) in Chester.
In keeping with the spirit of the event, I thought that I would reveal here the conversation I had recently with my old pal. After all, there is a rule in journalism-never let a piano pass the 100-year mark without an interview. And so:
LB: How do you feel at nearly a century old?
M&H: So how should I feel? My middle C is giving me fits, and my hammers have a touch of, what do you call it?-the jimjam jeeters.
LB: Oh you're a comedian, too?
M&H: I learned from the best-Borscht Belt, you know. I was played on in the Catskills once. You been to the Catskills?
LB: This is not about me.
M&H: What? You play me all these years and now it's not about you?
LB: Are you trying to be my mother? Stop with the guilt already.
M&H: It's just that I'm being a little nostalgic.
LB: Yes, tell me about it. What was it like back in 1913?
M&H: An interesting time for music. Not like now. People actually played melodies in those days. Beautiful melodies. Kids. Every kid played, in the parlor.
LB: So, you were a big deal back then?
M&H: Soccer wasn't invented yet. I mean, it was, but nobody ever heard of it in this country. So every kid played piano. And adults. After dinner families gathered around the old Mason & Hamlin. (Oh, there were Steinways, too, but that's my overrated competitor, and I don't want to talk about them.)
LB: And now?
M&H: Sometimes days, or weeks, go by and you don't play me. What are you doing, writing books or something?
LB: I'm sorry. I'm trying to make a living.
M&H: You wrote the words to the musical while playing me. Didn't "A Woman of a Certain Age" make you a fortune?
LB: It cost me a fortune. But let's get back to the point. The party. We'll have birthday cake and bubbly, and we'll toast you.
M&H: Yes, and I'll finally have someone who isn't an amateur play me.
LB: I'm excited about Dan Pardo. Did you hear him play for us last High Holy Days at CBSRZ?
M&H: How would I go to Yom Kippur services? I'm happy here in my little corner of the world. And besides, I have nothing to a-tune for? Get it? Atone. A-tune?
LB: Well, anyway, Dan has put together a great program-music written during your lifetime, from pieces by Scott Joplin to George Gershwin to Samuel Barber to Dave Brubeck.
M&H: And you. Don't forget something by you. Anyway, I'm excited. Actually. I know about him. He's maybe the most talented guy ever born in Reading, Penn. And he's been on the Goodspeed Opera House staff for three years.
LB: How do you know all this?
M&H: I read the papers. You remember those? Newspapers? Well, anyway he recently music-directed and wrote vocal arrangements for "The Fabulous Lipitones"; music-directed and accompanied "Come From Away." Did you see "City of Angels" and "Show Boat" (oh, do I miss Jerome Kern)-he worked that, too. And others. What a guy.
LB: Wow, you're more than a bunch of 88 keys, mahogany, and strings. You actually have a brain.
M&H: (Sings) I would wile away the hours, conferrin' with the flowers, consultin' with the rain, and my head I'd be scratchin' while my thoughts were busy hatchin' if I only had a brain…
LB: Okay, okay, we'll leave the singing to Dan.
M&H: But when, where, why, when, how?
LB: Ah, you went to journalism school, too? Anyway, there are two levels of tickets for the event on Sunday, Aug. 4, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. As this is your 100th birthday, wouldn't it make sense to ask for a minimum donation to CBSRZ of $100 per person?
M&H: That's a lot of money. I remember when a concert cost five bucks, and a coffee a nickel, and a two cents plain cost only...
LB: Let me guess. Two cents.
M&H: Aren't you brilliant. Well, you really need $100 a ticket?
LB: It will support all of the great things we do at the shul. You should see the oil bill. And we haven't had a fundraiser for a long time.
M&H: That's not my fault. You should have solar. And what if somebody can't pay a $100?
LB: Well, there's a second level of tickets. $50.
M&H: What's the difference?
LB: Well, the house is a house, not a concert hall. So some of the seats will have obstructed views. That is, everyone will see you. But not everyone will have a clear view of Dan. People in those seats will pay a reduced rate.
M&H: What do they need to pay not to see you? A thousand? Oh, just a little joke there.
LB: Yes. Very little. But to the point. Whether people buy $100 tickets or $50 tickets or want to sponsor the event they'll have a great time, and get their cake, too.
M&H: And how do they sign up to honor me?
LB: Call Wendy at the CBSRZ office at (860) 526-8920. And you look through the closet to see if you have something in ebony and ivory to wear.
M&H: I'm so flattered.
LB: Don't be. When I was a kid, I had a player piano. It never made me work so hard. I could just turn it on and it would play "Yes, We Have No Bananas."
M&H: Are you trying to pull my strings?