David Bouchier 1/20/14
7:40 am
Mon January 20, 2014

The Magic Piano

When I was about six years old, and too young to make an effective protest, one of my more severe aunts gave me a set of four gramophone records, seventy-eights. These were not for entertainment, but were intended to teach a moral lesson: don't cheat.

The records told the story of a small boy called Sparky who was learning to play the piano, just as I was in those days. One day his piano did what every suffering music pupil dreams of – it started to play by itself, beautifully, the music of Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmaninov. It was a magic piano, it could even talk. It warned young Sparky just to enjoy the music, and never ever on any account to use the powers of his magic piano to impress grownups, to pretend that he could play the music by himself.

Naturally, this was exactly what young Sparky did. He became child prodigy, a second Mozart overnight, and soon found himself on the concert platform ready to play his talented piano before a distinguished audience. Of course, at this point, the piano (obeying Murphy's Law of Magic Pianos) went silent, and young Sparky was exposed as a cheat and a fraud.

I listened to those gramophone records over and over again. The moral message, made no impression at all. But I desperately wanted a magic piano of my own to impress Miss Franklin the piano teacher, and to get out of taking any more piano lessons.

The trouble with moral stories is that they ignore human nature - in this case the universal human desire to appear to have talents and abilities that we don’t in fact possess. Fortunately, young children are no longer exposed to these confusing messages. They learn at an early age that nothing succeeds like the superficial appearance of success.

Now you can buy magic pianos in any music store. All necessity for real skill has been electronically removed. A child or a chimpanzee can play them. These keyboards are designed to give the illusion of a nonexistent musical talent. The stores are full of similar electronic musical non-instruments, a whole orchestra of fraud and humbug.

We know of course that singers on TV, and sometimes in so-called live shows, actually mime to recordings of their own songs because the digitally-improved recordings sound so much better than the talentless singers themselves. Computer technology allows us to mimic almost any skill, including flying a jet plane, driving a racing car, or balancing our bank accounts. Students can buy sophisticated term paper software to help them get those A's. The more linguistically challenged among us can use spelling checkers and grammar checkers to polish up the imaginary details of our computer-enhanced resumés. Writers can and do buy commercially-produced programs to create plots for their novels, or sceenplays for their movies: creativity in a box.

When we watch sporting events we may reasonably suspect that the athletes are pumped up all kinds of performance-enhancing drugs. When we look at each other, we may even suspect that hair colors and complexions, fingernails and even body shapes may not be exactly what they seem.    

It's a deceptive world out there: fake misery memoirs, photographs that have been “improved,” phony antiques, re-written histories – we love them all. The magic piano plays on and on.

Copyright: David Bouchier

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