I’m sure many of you can relate to my situation this past Spring. Many of us were in lockdown and simply trying to find something to keep us motivated and focused. I had plenty of music to keep me busy, and since I had just graduated from the songwriting mentorship, I had seven new songs that practically begged to be arranged, produced and performed. Being new to the whole recording thing, I spent the rest of the Spring trying to find my sound. My Spire, my twenty-year-old Roland FP-3, and headphones were my companions as I acquainted myself with a new skill— that of recording engineer and producer. Let’s just say, I think I’ll stick with singing and songwriting, but I’m getting there in terms of competence in this new creative realm.
As much as I loved my piano, my FP-3 was showing its age. Its sampled piano sound was far from modern and any time I wanted some strings to create depth in the background, I only had two choices for tones. The rhythms and beats were limiting, and I found myself pulling out my tiny Yamaha keyboard just to find a rhythm pattern that suited a particular song.
“You need a new piano,” my mom commented one day, and although the thought excited me, the reality was overwhelming. I didn’t even know what was on the market, and I knew I would need to do my homework if getting a new piano was in my future. So in between practicing, arranging, and recording, I watched hours of YouTube videos and immersed myself in online reviews. By the middle of August, I had centered my research on two stage pianos, but I wanted to play them first to make my final decision. I knew how they sounded online, but nothing compares to moving your fingers over the keys and judging their weight and escapement.
I had a medical appointment scheduled for a day in the middle of August in Woodbury, Minnesota, so I reached out to a music store close to the facility and asked if they had my top two piano choices available in their store to play and see them in person. Since going into lockdown in mid-March, I hadn’t been far from home or done any shopping beyond my local grocery store, so to journey 35 minutes from home was kind of a big deal. When I called the store, I was informed they only had one of my two choices, and they didn’t anticipate having the other in stock any time soon. I knew chances were slim that I would get to play the other piano in person, so I simply set my sights on the one they had available.
On the day of my appointment, my parents and I entered the music store— a well-known nationwide franchise, where I had purchased my FP-3 nearly twenty years earlier. I had high expectations— expectations that were quickly dashed. The piano was there and all set up, but it wasn’t plugged in. Once they found a power cord, I thought I would be able to play to my heart’s content, but no. There was no pedal, and every piano player knows how essential a damper pedal is to the whole playing experience. They found me a pedal, but by the time it was connected, the polarity was all messed up— meaning that when I pressed the pedal down, it did the exact opposite and the notes only sustained when I lifted my foot from the pedal.
I was pretty frustrated at this point since I was unable to truly experience the sound and potential of the instrument. But I could feel the keys beneath my fingers and that was enough for me to make the decision. I told the salesman that I wanted to purchase, and so the salesman and my dad made their way throughout the store gathering up a stand, speakers, pedal, and the other accessories I would need. I was expecting that I would have to order the piano and have it shipped to me, so I was surprised when the salesman offered us the display model. “You can take it home with you today,” he told us.
My dad was happy with this development. He would be able to help me set up the piano at home then and I wouldn’t have to struggle through the set-up process days later when he wouldn’t be there with me. We were just about to ring up my purchases when my parents realized that something didn’t look right with the piano. Once they had brought it into the main room, up by the cash registers, the harsh, fluorescent light revealed deep scratches and grooves into the metal body of the instrument. I was not making an investment in something so valuable when it was damaged from the beginning. We made the salesman aware of the situation, and he offered the possibility of taking ten percent off the order. “No,” I said. “Absolutely not. I want it new, straight from the box.” So I left the store that day with all of the accessories and no piano. My new Roland stage piano would be shipped to me, and I would just have to wait.
Two days later, the phone rang at home. It was a store in Middleton, Wisconsin, a part of the music store franchise I had visited a few days before in Minnesota. They informed me that the store in Minnesota had sourced my order to their location and they were getting ready to ship me their display model. Was that okay? Um… no! Again, I make it clear, I want this piano new, no blemishes, no scrapes and scratches, in the box, untouched. The salesman in Middleton said he understood, and he offered to check to see if any other stores in their system had a new model in the box, ready to ship. He told me I would have an answer the next day.
The next morning, I got the good news that my piano was being shipped from a store near Fort Worth, Texas. It would arrive via UPS three days later. I was nervous about the condition of the piano, hoping and praying that it would arrive safely without damage. I had been talking to my cousin, and he offered to help me unbox the piano when it arrived. He knew how nervous I was about the whole thing, and he was prepared to look everything over to make sure there were no issues. Then he planned to help me set it up.
When UPS came to the door, I asked the gentleman to carry the large box into the living room. Then I texted Justin to let him know it was go-time. Fifteen minutes later, the tape was cut away and the box gaped open to reveal my piano. “Does it look okay?” I remember asking, my voice probably squeaking with nervousness.
“Um… yeah, I think so,” Justin replies as he lifts one end of the piano out of the box. Then I hear a grumble of frustration. “Cassie, you’re not going to like this…”
“What is it?” Again, there was probably that nervous squeak in my voice.
He takes my hand and guides it to the upper portion of the keyboard. The top five or six keys are smashed down, stuck in place, and they don’t release when you touch them. Not only that, but there is a piece of the exterior that is missing on the end of the piano. Justin searches all over the box, looking for the broken piece, but it is nowhere to be found.
I slump down to the floor and start laughing hysterically.
“What’s so funny? Why are you laughing?” he askes me, probably thinking that I’ve officially gone cray-cray.
“If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry,” I say, wiping a few tears away even as I say this. “What do we do now?”
The next few hours were spent returning the defective piano to the Oakdale, Minnesota store. Thanks to Justin and his truck, we were able to take it to the store and leave it there. I was told my purchase would be refunded through an even exchange. A new piano would be shipped to me from their warehouse. I should have known better. How would they be able to ship a piano from their warehouse, when just three days earlier they were having to source my order from individual stores? Did they suddenly have new stock?
Somehow, I wasn’t surprised when I received an email the next morning. “We’re sorry. Your order has been cancelled,” the first line read. I barely held in my frustration as I called customer service. I didn’t even bother calling any of the three stores I had done business with over the past three days. I was so done with this franchise, and when they asked me if I was interested in a different piano, I flat-out declined. I made it clear I wanted a refund, and I was promised that would happen in three-seven days.
If you know me well, you know that I don’t cry unless I’m really angry. Well, I was there. I allowed myself a good cry once I got off the phone, but I couldn’t wallow in despair much longer. My senior pastor and administrative assistant needed me to call into the office, and I had to update Justin and my dad on the process of the piano buying fiasco. I was glad I had work to keep me busy that day because I was one step away from crying at any moment.
Throughout the day, I texted with my dad and youngest sister. They encouraged me to reach out to a local, small music store. I knew what I wanted, and even if they didn’t have my piano in stock, maybe they would be a dealer and they could order it for me. I really didn’t want to go through having a piano shipped to me again, so I thanked my family for the idea and decided it was just too soon to think about ordering from somewhere else and going through the process all over again. But my sister, in particular, was insistent. She even suggested she could call a music store near her to see if they could order a piano for me.
Finally, I decided to call my local store, a family-owned business about 20 miles from my home. I had been in their store before, and they rarely had pianos on display. There just wasn’t enough room in there, so I was pretty sure they wouldn’t have my piano available for purchase. But I wanted to set this to rest, and maybe, prove my baby sister wrong. 😊 When the store owner answered my call, I briefly told her that I had tried out this piano while out and about one day and that I had quite the experience trying to purchase and get it safely home. “Oh, Cassie,” she says to me. “Why didn’t you just call me first. I have one sitting in the box right next to me. Would you like to purchase it?”
An itsy-bitsy flutter of hope started to rise up inside of me, manifesting itself in my rapid heartbeat. Oh, how I wanted that piano! But I had gotten my hopes up, only to have them dashed cruelly, and I was fragile and distrustful. I asked her if I could think about it over the weekend and get back to her. I talked to my parents later that day, and they were quick to recognize that this connection seemed like it was meant to be all along. We didn’t know why I had to take such a prolonged detour to be led to the right place, but it was clear that I was going to get my piano from my hometown store in River Falls, Wisconsin.
Three days later, the store owner herself delivered the piano to my house and was gracious to help me set it up. My first text was to my cousin Justin, thanking him for his help and support during the long and drawn-out process. “Now play away!” he texted back.
I set out to do just that— play away— and right away I was pretty disappointed. The piano didn’t sound remotely like it had in all of the YouTube videos I had watched over the past few months. What was going on? It was tinny and thin sounding, so I began to play with the settings for reverb and EQ. That seemed to help a little, but I still wasn’t satisfied. A little research through YouTube and some Roland piano forums gave some insight into other tips and tricks. It was also suggested that the quality of the speakers or amp connected to the piano could also impact the sound, so knowing that my speakers were likely to blame, I set out to craft the perfect sound that would work with my set-up.
Its not perfect, but I think I’ve got a piano sound that works for me now. I used “Eastcoast Studio” as my template and brought in EQ and reverb until I could play through a few songs without my critical ear derailing my practice time. I’ve got so much to learn and a beautiful piano to enhance my creativity. It didn’t come without some major challenge, but for some reason, I had to endure the delays and defects to get where I am today. It shouldn’t have been that way, but maybe the winding road that led toward my hometown music store was the ultimate destination? Sometimes delays and detours don’t make any sense. Why would buying a piano— something that should be so good… a means for me to create, worship, and write songs to honor my Creator— be riddled with such challenge and difficulty? Maybe it was the enemy trying to frustrate the process. Maybe it was me getting in the way. Maybe, just maybe, it was God’s way of working in my circumstance, teaching me about patience. Even when the piano was finally here, I still had to craft my piano sound. My entitled mindset was thinking that I shouldn’t have to take the time to make the piano work for me like that. It should have been ready for me in the first moment I set my fingers on the keys! But in light of these circumstances, I could wait a few days more to draw that enhanced sound out from the piano. It was worth the wait.
God showed me infinite mercy as I cried and rebelled in the waiting. Looking back, I know he was faithful to show me the way, to draw close as I meticulously craft my sound so I can make music again. The process is ongoing and I’m not done learning. I’ll do my best to let Him take the baton and lead me forward. My music is incomplete and meaningless without Him.