I saw something beautiful the other day. One of those moments you might miss, something that makes you look around to your fellow man and think, ‘Did you see that?’
My girlfriend and I were wandering around downtown, looking for things to do after coming out of a museum exhibit. We stepped into the Chicago Cultural Center, just in case there was an event or something. We figured we’d look at some of the beautiful architecture there either way.
We snaked our way through the corridors for a while before we found ourselves looking for what to do next once more. We stood in the lobby, trying to decide whether or not to head back home, when we heard the sounds of piano faint in the distance. It was unmistakably a Brahms piece, and him being my favorite composer, one I know well.
We followed the sound of music up the stairs, the sound building in volume and intensity as we ascended, finally arriving in the Preston Bradley hall. If you’ve seen any photos of the Chicago Cultural Center, or if you googled it because of this piece, you’ve probably seen this space. It’s a marble and glass room, centered under a glass rotunda that serves as a skylight. Etched into the stone are famous quotes and the names of writers across history.
Sat upon a stage was a grand piano, being played by a man dressed in plain street clothes. He was practicing for the concerts hosted there every Wednesday, and must have come to feel out the piano, the reverberations from the walls, the sound of music reflected from the marble arches.
He played, the piano cordoned off by velvet ropes, as a few tourist stragglers milled about the room, taking photos of the words inscribed overhead, the view of the park through the windows. A few had taken up positions listening, seated along the floor, backs to the stone. However, for most the music had become a welcome backdrop rather than the main attraction.
He played on, barely stopping between pieces, clearly for himself rather than any audience. I’m sure if no one had been there at all he would have played just the same.
Just then, a tour group came into the space. I was leaned up against a pillar near the stairs. I watched them enter the room, the guides walking backwards as the toured span half-pirouettes to take it all in. I was impressed, even though they came to a new destination, they were all completely silent. Then, I saw why: the guide had stopped and began addressing the crowd in sign language.
The group walked over to the end of the piano, and receiving a nod from the pianist, the guide placed her hand on the end of the piano, suggesting a member of the tour to do the same. His face lit up as he placed his palm on the piano, feeling the vibrations of the strings inside. He moved around the piano, checking a few other places for better resonance, before returning to the far end.
It was over in only a few moments, but has stuck with me for a few days now. It was one of those moments where things seem to align in an unlikely way, all for a single event. The pianist had chosen that day, that time slot to practice. The tour landed in the hall just before the end of the performance. We had wandered in after our plans, simply following the sound of music, and waited long enough to hear the end.
After he finished playing, a few people went up to thank the pianist, including the deaf man and the tour guide.
In only a few days, the hall would be crowded again, this time lined with filled chairs, the pianist in a suit, and even more listening to the national radio broadcast that would send the performance out over the airwaves. But for today, by chance or fate, a handful of people had come together off of the cold city streets to share in a secluded moment before drifting away down the marble corridors like the gentle sounds of piano ringing out before us.