Piano man in the making
MEDFORD — A near century-old baby grand piano was spared disassembly, or worse, last month when a boy with an impressive knack for tickling the ivories excitedly agreed to provide the little piano with its forever home.
Jackson Ghena, who turns 9 in June, happily played the little piano in the comfort of his living room in Medford, almost in tune with the happy chaos of siblings and cousins around him on a recent afternoon.
Grinning from ear to ear while showing off his skills, Jackson and the 1929 Laffargue piano were an ideal match.
The young musician had been playing an old cheapie piano, but a string of happy circumstances put him in possession of the photogenic Laffargue, which he hopes to one day take with him when he moves out of his mom and dad’s house.
T.J. Elton, store manager of Artistic Piano and Music Gallery in Medford, facilitated the rehoming of the Laffargue. Elton said the store takes an unfortunate number of pianos — cheaper and old model trade-ins — to the landfill each year.
“We probably take at least 50 pianos a year to the dump and watch the bulldozers run over ‘em,” he said.
“There are a lot of crap pianos out there, like the ones you get on Craigslist for free. They were cheaper-made. Nobody will take them, even for free.”
The baby grand, however, was different.
The little piano, built by the Laffargue Piano Factory on 134th Street in New York City at the end of the 1920s, is a fine instrument. Laffargue Piano Company built pianos, from uprights to full-size grand pianos, between 1896 and 1932, until the company was acquired by the Aeolian-American Corporation. The Laffargue name was discontinued during the Great Depression.
Eric Werner, owner of Artistic Piano, ended up with the little piano a half-dozen years ago, taken in on trade. When the shop moved in 2021 to its new home on West Main Street, space became an issue.
“It’s not that it’s not a great little piano. It’s a very desirable piano. We had it priced for about 3,000 bucks, but it just sat. We eventually marked it down to $999, and we finally were going to dismantle it and take the harp out and strings off and make a book shelf out of the case,” Elton said.
“When you go to spend that kind of money on a piano, you can get an even nicer one, and it’s sitting right there next to it.”
Faced with relegating the piano to recycling or a trip to the dump, Elton reached out to Jackson’s mom.
Pay the delivery fee, he said, and the piano comes home with the boy.
“She is a local foster mom and she comes into the store draped in children. They’re a wonderful family, and the kids are all great. Jackson gets out of his piano lesson and runs into our bathroom and puts his Little League uniform on and heads off to pitch for his baseball team,” Elton said.
“One of the kids runs cross-country, and the other one has a karate uniform on when they come in. This woman is an angel on Earth, so we felt like this was a deserving family.”
Jackson’s mom, Leah Ghena, said she was excited to be offered the baby grand. A piano player herself, she learned on a baby grand as a child. Prior to getting the Laffargue, the family had “just an old, kinda crappy upright.”
“It was working fine, but I grew up with a baby grand, so it definitely was on my wish list. I didn’t want to spend money on that sort of thing until the kids were older, but this was impossible to pass up,” she said.
“I know there are definitely advantages to the new electric ones and what not, but I think it’s really fun to have this instead of something newer. I love that it has the ebony and ivory keys. It’s neat to think about all the people who have played it.”
Jackson’s teacher Margie Daly said she was thrilled to see her young charge end up with a beautiful piano. Jackson, she noted, brings an extra level of fun for his soon-to-retire teacher, even making up “raps” using music terminology.
“I can’t think of a better person to get it. He is highly motivated, enjoys practicing and discovering new things. That piano gives him a lot more possibility,” Daly said, noting that Jackson recently mastered his next skill level after participating in a statewide process through the Oregon Music Teachers Association.
“He has twin siblings, and one is a girl. He’ll play something that’s a little bit jazzy, and she starts dancing. The whole house is pretty lively. I’m so happy this family has this piano.”
She added, “Jackson is quite an athlete, but he’s a wonderful little musician. There was a conflict once with a baseball game at the same time he had a recital … and he chose the recital.”
Busily playing his favorite tunes, Jackson paused and smiled at his mom. Asked how he ended up with a baby grand of his own, he simply shrugged.
“My mom had one, so now I get to have one because they’re really good pianos,” he said.
“I don’t know about its story or where it came from, but it’s really old and it’s fun to play. I want to take it with me when I grow up, so my kids can play, too.”
Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.