Today we start The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. Before the book even began, I was struck by the quote in the front:
Music, to create harmony, just investigate discord. Plutarch.
Knowing the basics that a British piano tuner goes to Burma during the 1880s to tune a piano, I wonder what discord he will experience to create harmony. Is the political situation not what he thought it would be? Were the local people different than he thought? Was the nature of his mission to tune a piano, also off of what he thought it would be?
I don’t tend to ponder pre-story quotes, but since this week’s theme is discord, this line gave me pause. Where have I investigated discord in my own life and through that investigation, found harmony?
I have to give props to Daniel Mason as a writer. I admire the ability for different voices or styles to come out of one mind. I also appreciate that each chapter is just that, what feels like a different chapter in Edgar Drake’s life — it feels very 1880s English, doesn’t it? At least the first six chapters do; I’m curious if as the story goes on and it becomes (I’m assuming) more chaotic, if the chapters will still feel like tidy markers in the story.
Chapter one—Edgar is summoned to the war office and told about the piano.
Chapter two—Katherine finds out about the trip and the two of them prepare for it.
Chapter three—Edgar’s letter to Katherine from the first leg of the journey.
Chapter four—Still traveling, Edgar hears the story from “the one with one story.”
Chapter five—Edgar reads the report and history that Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll wrote. Edgar felt compelled to write his own “report” on the history of the Grand Piano.
Chapter six—Edgar arrives and finds he will need to wait a few more days before he can leave for Mandalay. He is invited on a tiger hunt.
I have to admit that at times, the story felt slow. But I think this is intentional. I am so used to someone getting on the internet and quickly finding information. Or getting on a plane and within a day or so being in another whole part of the world. But true change? True change comes slowly. This first section brings to mind the saying, “The soul travels on a ship, but we live in a world that travels by plane.”
The pace of Edgar’s journey is giving him time to process all that he needs to.
Here are a few thoughts from this section:
I found it humorous that the war office was focused on the mission (of course they were!), and Edgar kept coming back to the piano. What was wrong with it?
“Mr. Drake, we do have much to discuss of this matter. If you haven’t recognized by now, this commission is as much about a man as it is about a piano.” I love this because it points to the truth that almost every situation is about the unseen as the seen.
In chapter two when Katherine told Edgar she had been expecting something different and said, “It is a lovely idea to use music to bring peace.” This line has stayed with me. I’ve wondered how we each use some form of the arts to bring peace, to start conversations, to point to lasting truth? No matter who you are, I believe we all use the arts in some way. Could you share in the comments what are you use? Could be cooking, fashion, jewelry, art, photography, the written word, or music. This list is just off the top of my head. It is not exhaustive!
Later in the same chapter, when Edgar received some music that the Surgeon-Major wanted him to bring and “such taste gave him confidence in the mission.” I can relate! When someone tells me they like this book, but not that one, it does build confidence in me. I’m sure we have all received that incredulous look of “WHAT?! You like that movie?” (or TV show) and are left wondering how they could like it?! What is wrong with them =).
“Everyone at the party was thrilled about the Brand commission and speculated late into the evening about what could be wrong with the piano.” In my notes I wrote, “I can relate to trying to get a sense of a calling.” How many times have you emailed or asked someone in a new location questions trying to get a handle on what, exactly, you will be doing?
In chapter three I loved when he wrote to Katherine, “If I can help the cause of music . . . ” This story is one that we can relate to, being sent on a journey in response to a call, wanting to help a greater cause.
But also not fully understanding what it might cost. In Chapter four, when Edgar hears the story from the-man-with-one-story, I picked up on the foreshadowing that Edgar cannot be the same after his trip and mission. (Thank you to my high school English teachers talking about foreshadowing at a time I thought it was stupid and there was no reason to read into everything. I was listening, even if disagreeing internally.)
So many great lines that cut deep. Here’s one more: “There were other similarities as well, he thought. In many ways our professions are alike, rare in that they transcend class distinction—everyone becomes ill, and concert grands as well as gin-palace uprights get out of tune. Edgar wondered what this meant for the Doctor, for he had learned early that being needed is not the same as being accepted. Although he was a frequent visitor to the upper-class homes where the owners of expensive pianos often engaged him in talk about music, he never felt welcome.”
Being needed is not the same as being accepted.
Let’s end there and continue talking in the comments.
February 6: Chapters 1-6
February 13: Chapters 7-11
February 20: Chapters 12-17
February 27: Chapters 18-24