Walking his two young children to school every morning, Thad Carhart passes an unassuming little storefront in his Paris neighborhood. Intrigued by its simple sign—Desforges Pianos—he enters, only to have his way barred by the shop’s imperious owner. Unable to stifle his curiosity, he finally lands the proper introduction, and a world previously hidden is brought into view. Luc, the atelier’s master, proves an indispensable guide to the history and art of the piano. Intertwined with the story of a musical friendship are reflections on how pianos work, their glorious history, and stories of the people who care for them, from amateur pianists to the craftsmen who make the mechanism sing. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank is at once a beguiling portrait of a Paris not found on any map and a tender account of the awakening of a lost childhood passion.
“You can never have too many dream pianos.” – Luc, Desforges Pianos
A book that was recently recommended to me, and which I loved, spurred me to further investigate more books similar to it. That book was A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano“>A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano by Katie Hafner. When I stumbled across The Piano Shop on the Left Bank I felt a little thrill and knew I was in for another treat, and I wasn’t disappointed.
While A Romance was a book more focused around one particular piano and the lives that it touched, The Piano Shop deals more with the technical aspects of repairing, restoring and re-awakening a love of music in Thad Carhart, the author of this memoir. Parts of the book read like a novel, a story about a man finding again his love and pleasure in creating music – and other parts of the book read like a technical manual, detailing the various processes of repairing and restoring pianos (something I was already somewhat familiar with, my own father being a piano technician for many years). There’s history – stories of famous composers, performers and piano builders, there’s opinions, some of which I share and some of which were new to me. And most of all, through it all, it’s easy to feel the love that the author has for music and for beautiful instruments in the way he thoroughly and thoughtfully weaves together the story.
Recently, while in Chicago I experienced an old bookstore. I walked in, smelled the musty smell of books that have seen more than I ever will in my lifetime. I chatted with the owner who sized me up with just a few questions and was able to match me with a book that was perfect for me. Much like the wand-maker in Harry Potter (for those of you who are still searching to understand what I’m talking about), Luc finds and matches up individuals to the perfect piano for them.
By the time I finished this book I found myself wishing I lived in Paris, just so that I could stop by Desforges and look for myself. I felt an aching to experience, once again, the feel of a perfect action and the sound of a well-tuned instrument. Maybe someday I’ll get to go there, it’s definitely something that’s made its way onto my bucket list.