Please don’t drop my harpsichord!
Aspen Times Weekly
In 1966 I began a decade-plus stint working for the Aspen Music Festival. I had many duties, and one of the more interesting was moving instruments. Mostly I moved percussion instruments, pianos, harps and harpsichords ” anything too large or heavy for musicians to move on their own.
The music festival vehicle fleet at the time consisted of one mid-1950s Chevy truck used to haul garbage to the dump. I tied the passenger door closed with rope to prevent it from opening when I made a 90-degree turn. Rotting wood in the truck’s bed created holes large enough for anything smaller than your fist to fall through. I watched the highway passing under me through rusted holes in the cab floor. When it rained, I had to pull off the road because the wiper didn’t work. Harpists’ faces would crumple with concern whenever I drove up to move their instruments.
I got a call to move Fernando Valenti’s harpsichord from his summer home to the Tent because he had an upcoming performance. My boss, Col. Daugherty, caustically commanded me to pay strict attention to Valenti’s directions, as Fernando was a notable and easily offended artist. Never having moved a harpsichord before, I assumed that doing so must be a technical procedure. When my cousin and I arrived, Mr. Valenti questioned us like a father would someone who was dating his daughter for the first time. He gave us a history of his instrument and although he didn’t hint at its value, which to him was priceless, he did make it clear that should we damage it there would be hell to pay. The harpsichord proved to be a magnificent piece of craftsmanship and artistry and that included beautiful inlaid woods. It was one of the finest harpsichords in the country.
Valenti began with instruction about how to move a harpsichord. It was really quite easy. We simply had to take three bolts out of the leg framework, separate the body from the leg structure, and carry it like a coffin to the truck. We had hauled a hundred pianos, some up narrow stairways, before the festival began, so I was surprised to feel the harpsichord’s light weight even though it was almost as long as a concert grand piano.
Valenti followed us, gasping, sighing and chiding each step of the way over our apparent inattention to impending obstacles. After we positioned the harpsichord in the truck, he nearly decided to cancel the transition because the instrument was longer than the truck bed. We convinced him that it would be safe, especially since we had only five blocks to travel. He followed us in his car while I drove extra slowly so chuckholes did not prematurely unload his treasure.
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When we arrived at the tent the process repeated in reverse as we unloaded, moved and reassembled his instrument. When we completed our task we were asked to accomplish just one more. Mr. Valenti consumed quantities of 8-ounce bottles of Coke, as evidenced by his obviously decayed teeth. We carried in a full wooden case of the bottles for his afternoon practice session.
Valenti rewarded each of us with a Coke and drank the other 22 bottles within 48 hours. We and the dilapidated Chevy truck had passed his test. For the rest of the summer, he dismissed us to move the harpsichord without him saying, “I can’t stand to watch, it makes me too nervous.”
I later learned that one previous summer Mr. Valenti’s harpsichord had taken a disastrous dip into the Roaring Fork River in a Rio Grande delivery truck. The entire instrument had to be disassembled, dried, repaired and refinished. This was my introduction to musicians’ worst nightmares.
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