From My Bookshelf: The Lost Pianos of Siberia

In The Lost Pianos of Siberia, a combination adventure travel-journalism book, author Sophy Roberts went on a search for surviving 19th century pianos in the remote areas of Siberia. Pianos that survived harsh weather conditions, political and cultural shifts, and brutal labor camps. Are there still pianos? Do they still sound rich? While the love of music is universal, the book actually has very little about music and pianos, but is more about history. And a bit of adventuring along the Trans-Siberian Railway and points north. The awe of looking for pianos was always subdued by the terrifying past. Yet, music surely brought joy to such difficult situations and conditions.

Photo of a gray paperback book cover with white font.

How did I, being deaf, come across this book? It was reviewed in the New York Times and sounded interesting. And yes, many people do not know, I took piano lessons as a child when I wore hearing aids. I was able to feel most of the lower range of sounds, hear somewhat the lower to middle range, and only imagine the upper range. But playing the piano to me was simply reading and following the directions on sheet music. I don’t think I got much farther than Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, but at least, I understood the beginning basics of pianos and music. I had the opportunity to learn to play clarinet in fifth grade but that didn’t last long. The entire band blurred into one blob of a roar. Following both the directions of the conductor and sheet music was next to impossible, much to me like rubbing your stomach while patting your head at the same time. All the while trying to figure out if my clarinet was even making a sound in the first place. In college, I successfully challenged myself to take a course on physics of sound, learning about longitudinal and mechanical sound waves, vibrations, kinetic energy, frequencies, amplitudes, and timbre. A lot like reading and writing, one can learn about sounds without ever really hearing the sounds.

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