Piano minding

Twenty years ago, a friend and fellow music student (A) lent me a piano.  A was moving to share with another fellow student in a house which had a bigger and better piano, and I did not have a piano. 

The piano was a small Young Chang upright – not really an adequate piano for any serious purposes because its action was so shallow and light.  Almost a toy piano, indeed, but still adequate provided those limitations were taken into account.  I think such pianos then sold for about $1500 or maybe that was the second-hand price at the time, but it is sufficient to give an idea. 

I paid for the removalists (that was about $150), moved a bookshelf from the one available wall in my flat and its contents into my then unregistered car sitting in the carport to my flat, and kept the piano tuned.

Fifteen years ago, I moved temporarily to Perth. I decided that the Young Chang was not worth taking – even though my employer would have paid for it to be moved and eventually to be brought back. I anticipated renting something a bit better once I got to Perth, which is what I in fact did.

A had in the meantime moved and had another, more adequate, piano.  With A’s permission, I passed the piano on to my friend B, who as it would happen lived just a few metres up the street from A.  B knew it was A’s piano.

Thirteen years ago, I came back from Perth.  I bought my own piano, a Yamaha U3 imported (second-hand and reconditioned) from Japan.  That cost me $5,000.  Two years ago when I moved from Dulwich Hill to Ashfield, I paid the removalists a modest premium for moving the piano. 

I kept the piano tuned, save for a longish gap between the last tuning in Dulwich Hill and the first tuning in Ashfield at the beginning of this year.  That was because my by-then-preferred piano tuner had taken a full-time job as tuner and was no longer interested in tuning my rather crumby instrument and it took a while to track down another tuner and actually get him to come.  Just to give an idea, over this time a tune went from about $120 to (on the last occasion) $200.

I would still see A from time to time in musical contexts, though our worlds have otherwise drifted apart.  I saw B more often.  In the intervening period, B moved twice, getting the piano moved at a premium (stairs and pianos always attract a premium, usually per step) each time, although as far as I could make out B played it rarely and never had it tuned.

In the middle of January this year, I received an email from A.  As a barrister, I can always be tracked down.  It turned out the better piano I’d seen at A’s place in 2000 was not A’s own piano, but was one that A had been “minding” for someone who had been overseas.  That person now wanted their piano back.  A asked if A’s old piano might still be somewhere and retrievable.  “If it’s not, never mind, but if it is, I’d definitely be interested in getting it back.”

I asked B, who said A was welcome to the piano if A wanted it back.  I passed this message and B’s contact details on to A. I suggested to A that A might want to have a look at it first before deciding if A really wanted it.

I don’t know if A ever got to look at the piano.  Quite soon it became clear that despite B’s initial agreement to returning the piano, B was not being particularly co-operative. Yes, A could come to check the piano out, but B would not be going very far out of B’s way to make any arrangements to enable that.

And so it went on.  Removalists arrived at B’s place to pick up the piano, but at 8.30 am rather than the arranged 9.00 am. They left without the piano. According to B, they didn’t have piano straps, but whether or not this was the reason they left empty-handed, no subsequent arrangements for picking up the piano were agreed to by B before B left the country for some months a few weeks ago.

There’s probably a moral to be drawn from this tale but a snappy conclusion eludes me right now.

7 Responses to “Piano minding”

  1. wanderer Says:

    Well, possession is nine tenths came fast and furious into my mind

    • marcellous Says:

      It’s not to my mind a question at all of the law, W. Incidentally, I’ve only heard one side of the story so far, and that is B’s. A is the one who might read this blog. Long-lent chattels can be a vexing issue but I think A may well be vexed (and fairly so) that B now seems to mean “no” when B first said “yes.”

      • marcellous Says:

        Perhaps I should put the first sentence of my reply a bit differently, W. You are right about possession and the law. The law is clear to me but it is not the only question let alone the most important.

      • wanderer Says:

        I was responding more to the elusive ‘snappy conclusion’ than more profound questions.

  2. Louise Feltus Says:

    My sister had a story similar this week!

    Her story related to art work that her friend left with her as my sisters friend went to LA…

    My sister gave the paintings to her Neighbour who loved them and appreciated them she probably would not get $5 in the op shop so thought all was well…

    Then her friend who is still in LA wanted the pictures back!!! So my sister asked for them back… Awkward… And now has been asked to deliver them for sale on commission!!!

    Suddenly they are precious… I’m now curious what the artwork is like so I can have an opinion …$5 or…. Perhaps more!!


    Louise Feltus


  3. Andrew Says:

    I lent my first digital camera to a friend as a long term loan, only saying when he didn’t want it anymore, I would like it back. While now about to buy my fourth camera, I don’t want it back but it would be nice if he offered, especially as he doesn’t use it and not sure he ever did. I conclude, don’t long term loan something you really think you will want back.

    • marcellous Says:

      That’s a sound conclusion from my tale, A, though not such a good fit to your camera since you don’t really want it back (what, I suppose, with the march of digital camera technology and all). That sounds more like an issue with you and your friend and a question of acknowledgement.

      I’m inclined to think that, over time, a long-term loan has a tendency, especially in the eyes of the recipient, to merge into a gift or into something which has simply become theirs. If you don’t keep the loaniness of it alive by reminders then in the end if you are the lender you probably should let it go.

      With the piano, the expense of removal means that any loan is likely to be relatively long-term. There was every reason to think that A might need the piano back if A had stopped sharing with the fellow student who also had a piano. What triggered this tale, both in keeping the loan going and then bringing it to a sort of end, was a rarer example of two long-term loans almost back to back.

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