Music

Pandemic project: this pianist finally tackled the 'mountains of crap' in his studio

'This global pause has been a great time for me to get things sorted out,' says Jamie Parker.

'This global pause has been a great time for me to get things sorted out,' says Jamie Parker

'I ordered a piano tuning kit, watched a few videos, and went at it a couple of nights ago.' (Jamie Parker)

While many of Canada's classical musicians have been spending these idle days of isolation doing live streams or hitting the practice room to learn new repertoire, pianist Jamie Parker set himself a different kind of challenge: to clean up his (really messy) home piano studio.

"My piano studio descends into a messy, dirty cave when I'm busy," he told CBC Music via email. "So this global pause has been a great time for me to get things sorted out."

Before you look at the before and after photos, below, allow Parker to provide some context:

"When you have performer's blood, that means practising is the number one priority," he said. "I'll choose it before email and admin work any and every day. I'm usually up until 2:30 or 3 practising every night. I'll fit office work in during practice breaks. Because there's always so much to stay on top of, I let cleanliness and organization fall by the wayside. I am as organized as I need to be — no more than that. Some people are judgmental, but in response to that, I would counter that if you show me someone with a spotless studio, I can show you someone who could be practising more."

And he's not exaggerating about having a lot on the go: In addition to being a founding member of the Juno Award-winning Gryphon Trio, Parker is also head of the piano area at the University of Toronto's faculty of music.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to much of that work, Parker's attention turned to the state of his home studio.

"I haven't had my piano tuned in about a decade because of the mountains (literally!) of, well, crap on it," he admitted. "Music, files, mail, old programs, art, hockey jerseys, instruments, snacks, and I think I saw a family of raccoons there the other night."

'If you show me someone with a spotless studio, I can show you someone who could be practising more.' (Jamie Parker)

Parker says there have been many stages to the campaign of cleaning up his studio.

"I sorted and filed boxes of old programs (the last time I had time to do that was during my last sabbatical). Then, I cleared out under the piano — lots of surprises there! Halloween candy wrappers, broken pencils, unframed or unhung artwork, and lots of shoes. I decided to also pack up all the winter clothing and sort out articles to donate."

Amid all those things, Parker uncovered some treasures ("I found some great old photos from Banff and Juilliard student days, some memorabilia and souvenirs that made me smile") as well as some not-so-pleasant items ("Under the piano, I found a zip-locked bag of some unidentifiable food that had putrefied and liquefied. I'll blame the kids for that one.")

It was the prospect of teaching his students online that motivated Parker to get his piano tuned.

"That was the main impetus to clear off the piano," he said. But with social-distancing measures in effect, professional piano tuners aren't making house calls.

"I ordered a piano-tuning kit, watched a few videos, and went at it a couple of nights ago," he explained. "Success! (Mostly.) It's been so long since a professional has tuned my piano that it has gone really flat, so it'll take a few tunings to get it stable, and then with warmer weather it'll need more attention. I still need a few days to consolidate various things, but I'm happy with the results so far."

'I figured I better get my piano tuned in order to better teach online, so that was the main impetus to clear off the piano.' (Jamie Parker)

It's an impressive transformation, which Parker says was epic rather than difficult.

"I've actually enjoyed doing this in some perverse kind of way. I just don't ever want to get a reputation as being really organized and clean. That would be humiliating."

Have you undertaken a "pandemic project"? Tell us about it on Twitter @CBCClassical.

Pianist Jamie Parker performs Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie for CBC Music. 3:20

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