A Love Letter to the Piano In Front of Spot Coffee
I sit, journal open, hand curled around an iced coffee wet with condensation, gazing into the distance. It’s rare that I find myself writing outdoors, considering the weather in my hometown has always had more snowy and sweltering days than comfortable, so it takes me a little while to get situated with my surroundings. I’ve been visiting this coffee shop for over a year now, and this is the first time I’ve ever taken advantage of their patio seating. Usually I prefer the seats near the outskirts of the shop, conveniently located next to an outlet and an exit. But it’s July, and I feel somewhat whole, and I am no longer afraid of unfamiliarity, so I relocate.
I’m alone in this section, my only company the music drifting from the speaker above my head. Lana Del Rey is the barista’s choice today, her voice thick with yearning as she floats over Delaware Avenue—stay, baby, stay, on the side of paradise / in the Tropic of Cancer, / ‘cause if I had my way you’d always stay / and you’d be my tiny dancer. Her pleas are soon drowned out, however, by the tinkling of piano keys.
Outside of the enclosed area for Spot Coffee patrons sits a gazebo that’s seen better days, the home of a painted piano placed by the town of Kenmore. There’s a sign in front of it encouraging anyone that feels the desire to sit, or stand, and play a little. A teenager beneath a green beanie has propped a bike against the gazebo and sat down at the keys. I create a backstory for them in my head—their parents had them take lessons as a child and a result they harbor a deep appreciation for the art, but now they hardly ever play. The lessons stopped, but the love for music didn’t. I stare down at my notebook, doodling flowers in pen, listening to their fingers fly across the keys. It’s not a song I recognize, which in my mind solidifies the history I’ve created for the player. Cars drive past, coffee-drinkers are absorbed in their laptops and newspaper, and the world turns, seemingly oblivious to this tiny breath of magic.
In the hours I spend on the back patio, I come to realise I’ve inadvertently chosen the best seat in the house. After the teenager leaves, slinging a backpack over their shoulder and pedaling away, a young woman and her boyfriend ascend the gazebo steps. The woman plays “Chopsticks”, laughing, it’s been years since I’ve touched a piano, I’m shocked I remember where to put my hands. The man just smiles, kissing her head, murmuring something not meant for anyone except her. It feels almost wrong to listen to the music she’s making in what is so clearly a moment that belongs to the two of them. But I’ve always been drawn to that which I cannot fully be a part of, so I continue to pretend that I am meant for this space.
After the couple departs, laughing, two young girls on their way home from dance class wander into that same gazebo. They cannot play, that much is evident, but there’s something incredibly endearing about the two of them sitting on each end of the bench, experimenting with noise. Their bags of tap shoes and tights sit haphazardly on top of the steps, nearly vibrating with sound. I can remember, vaguely, being that age—wanting so badly to be fluent in melody but not wanting to put in the work to achieve it. I wonder, idly, whether or not these young women will end up in their school bands, or will make their own. There’s so much possibility when it comes to music. There’s so much hope.
Perhaps the most memorable of the parade of piano-players is the last person I see, the man who stops the stroller he’s pushing, takes out the baby inside of it, and introduces them to the instrument. I watch as he gently sets the child in his lap, presses keys in front of the baby’s eyes with a learned hand, demonstrating. The child is young, too young to speak or comprehend what’s going on, but understands well enough to take their own small palm and push down on the ivories. The man plays a simple tune while the baby reaches their chubby fists in front of them and plays along with him, the man’s melody punctuated by angry-bright staccato bursts. It’s so special a scene that I find it difficult to write about, difficult to convey the immense love that so clearly surrounds these two, the piano, the collective voice in front of me.
Truth be told, I feel the urge to jump up and applaud once the man has carefully strapped the baby back into the stroller and walked away. But, of course, I don’t. Instead, I remain seated, ice coffee next to me, a July day full of something tender and sweet. I open up to the next empty page of my journal and write a love letter to no one and everyone and the piano in front of Spot Coffee: thank you for your voice. Thank you for your song.