The Piano – by Matt Keating

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“In a career spanning more than 20 years, Matt Keating has established himself as one of America’s great under-the-radar songwriters. Had he emerged five decades back, he might have been a Tin Pan Alley stalwart, turning out intelligent, accessible songwriting with the clockwork genius of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. His work is rife with the clever, incisive tunefulness that marked that era. Keating has long been an astute chronicler of human affairs at their most fragile.” NPR Music

Matt has been consistently putting out critically acclaimed albums since his Alias Records debut, Tell It to Yourself was released in 1993. His most recent album, THIS PERFECT CRIME is his 9th full-length in addition to 2 EP’s, including 2003’s Tiltawhirl released on Alan McGee’s POPTONES label. He has continued to tour regularly throughout the US and Europe.

He lives in the West Village of New York City with his wife, fellow songwriter and designer Emily Spray, and their daughter singer-songwriter Greta Spray Keating. In addition to performing and writing his own music, he produces other artists, teaches music and songwriting, does scoring for TV and Film, and provides instrumental backing for other touring artists.

by Matt Keating

“In a career spanning more than 20 years, Matt Keating has established himself as one of America’s great under-the-radar songwriters. Had he emerged five decades back, he might have been a Tin Pan Alley stalwart, turning out intelligent, accessible songwriting with the clockwork genius of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. His work is rife with the clever, incisive tunefulness that marked that era. Keating has long been an astute chronicler of human affairs at their most fragile.” NPR Music

Matt has been consistently putting out critically acclaimed albums since his Alias Records debut, Tell It to Yourself was released in 1993. His most recent album, THIS PERFECT CRIME is his 9th full-length in addition to 2 EP’s, including 2003’s Tiltawhirl released on Alan McGee’s POPTONES label. He has continued to tour regularly throughout the US and Europe.

He lives in the West Village of New York City with his wife, fellow songwriter and designer Emily Spray, and their daughter singer-songwriter Greta Spray Keating. In addition to performing and writing his own music, he produces other artists, teaches music and songwriting, does scoring for TV and Film, and provides instrumental backing for other touring artists.

 

One spring morning, I walked out of my apartment on 6th Avenue expecting to take my usual route to the right, when a small voice spoke to me. It said, “Turn left.” For a long time I had turned left every day, but seven years before I’d sold the reason – a small studio apartment I owned and worked out of in the Village. With the money from the sale, I rented a different studio up in Midtown and changed my walking route accordingly, until I couldn’t afford that studio anymore and began to work out of my home.

Working out of my home had one major disadvantage in New York City. There was no longer a reason to walk for miles a day. The daily to and fro had kept me in check, physically and spiritually. In the year and a half since I’d given up my last studio, I noticed myself getting soft around the edges and whenever I got that feeling I would just walk out, turn right, and out of habit, up 6th Avenue.

That morning, so many conflicting voices seemed to come out and attack me as is the case whenever I do something out of my ordinary routine. But I turned left anyway and began walking. I thought I would take a stroll by my old studio space on Grove and Hudson though usually I avoided that path. It was sometimes painful to see the property I had given up in exchange for the security of cash now diminished to nothing these years later. For eleven years, I’d taken this route back and forth, so much so that I would occasionally run into people who asked me why I walked it so often.

As I moved westward toward Grove, almost at Bedford, I spotted an old piano in front of the building on the corner. It wasn’t a completely unusual site because many people don’t want to deal with pianos when they move, and so leave them on the street. Most of the pianos are bad sounding. The typical dull thud on a poorly designed instrument combined with years of neglect deems them hardly above the garbage they accompany on the street. But I could tell immediately there was something different about this piano. It had a tall, dark, stately presence about it. I moved around toward the keyboard and banged a few chords. I was immediately struck by its deep dark beautiful tone, and the real ivory feel of the keys. This was not just another piece of wood and string. As I played it on the street, I realized that for the past few weeks I’d been silently wishing for this tone.

I’ve been a professional musician for over thirty years and began playing piano at the age of seven when my parents bought one for the family. Nevertheless, city living and the availability of electronic keyboards seemed to prevent me from even entertaining this silent desire of mine – to own an upright piano. But now I became consciously aware that I had sent out a little wish to the world to have a real piano in my home. I think I may have even mouthed the wish silently to myself. And now here on the streets of New York City was a piano – not just any piano, but one with the exact tone I craved, warm and bright at the same time. It sounded like the piano on those early Chuck Berry recordings.

There was a hand written note on the piano that said: “take me.” But a contrary voice in my head said: “How will you move it? Where will you put it?” I thought of my wife Emily who always talked about how much she hated growing up with the sound of her brothers banging on the piano around the house, and I knew this could become an issue. It all began to seem overwhelming. I could feel the piano slipping out of my hands. Then I heard a voice cry out from above.

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Categories: First Issue

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