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preparation for untuned piano

The initial curiosity of piecing together something for the Carroll Mansion exhibition was, as for most, the fact of its connection to the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence.


Soon after, I began to learn of the Museum’s having to shut down operations years ago (along with a host of other City Life Museums), and what this meant for the objects it had been used to looking after, now, hanging in the balance.


I began to reflect on “the document” and “the people” in whose name it was invoked and over which it was to serve as a form of protection (and nourishment).


I began to think of the objects, in their loss of protection, along the lines of people without a home, and also the dangers of finding a home, the dangers of ownership and independence, which tend to encourage a freedom that has more in common with slavery than we’d like to acknowledge.


Glancing over the full list of objects, a piano caught my attention, not least of all because it had been donated by (an) Edgar Allan Poe.


It so happened that this musical instrument was already in the Carroll Museum’s possession, so we did not have to fuss with the matter of having it transferred but rather permissions of having it played.


We came to discover it was not in good shape, out of tune and scattered dead notes.


Because the exhibition was titled “stuttering” the thought of having it played seemed to resound with more relevance, akin to the heart of this mindful Declaration.


To further emphasize the importance, I wanted to set against this playing a reading of King George’s Proclamation of 1775, addressing the problem of rebellion and sedition in the nascent colonies.


As someone pointed out later, it came across as a more eloquent version of our then current President, also named George, who, at the crucial time in early September, had spoken to the American people of guarding our freedom by way of commerce; he urged us, that is, to remain first and foremost, consumers.


Who else could play this instrument, which was no longer even a piano, and make it full of actuality and promise, hope against hope ….


Lafayette Gilchrist, who, as a pioneering jazz musician, understands the responsibilities that come with a freedom that is not exactly ours.