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8:36 am
Fri July 11, 2014

How to Move a Grand Piano

It's 8 am on a Monday.  I'm standing in the lobby with three other guys, looking at a piano.  I check my watch.  We're under a time crunch.  In three hours' time, there will be a jazz concert in the ballroom upstairs, and they need this very piano.  Did I mention it was a grand?

Oddly enough, a grand piano is constructed with moving in mind.   Like a camping stool, or a badly made GI Joe, its legs can be removed, and the body of the instrument turned on its side - imagine, if you will, a gigantic wedge of Edam cheese being placed point-forwards, like a ramp, on the ground - and you can perhaps begin to picture what a legless grand piano can resemble.  That's our goal here.

Nevertheless, this is still going to be a huge undertaking.  This isn't your average baby grand, the kind you find in an upscale living room or a hotel lobby, it's a seven-footer.  A piano like this weighs over 750 pounds - the equivalent of an adult American alligator.  Or, if you prefer, it's as heavy, and probably as noisy, as the 2012 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy Lo motorcycle.  Or, as  heavy and potentially as dangerous as a canvas ring containing all three of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson.  This piano is a heavyweight champ.

The piano tuner arrives, equipped with a screwdriver, a hand-jack and crescent wrench.  He bustles around us, making disapproving noises as we get to work.  Gingerly, one man slides under the piano and removes the pedal assembly.  While he is there, we also unbolt the left-hand leg under the keyboard.  The piano sags slightly.  Two sets of hands grab the keyboard and lift up, while the man down under pulls the leg free.  Swiftly, the piano tuner puts the hand jack in place and props the keyboard back up. 

Now, I know what you're thinking.  How are we going to remove the other legs without the instrument falling over?  Well, this is where our secret weapon comes in, the piano dolly - a seven-foot long plank of carpet-covered wood, one foot wide, with four heavy-duty wheels.  If Barney the Dinosaur had ever entered the half-pipe in the Summer X-Games, this surely would have been his ride.

We bring the dolly stealthily alongside the piano, lock it in place, and gently tip the piano over until the side is resting on the dolly, its remaining two legs extended sideways.  I am reminded of the moose road-kill I once saw on the side of a road in Maine.  Soothingly, I hold the piano lid shut, while others remove the legs.  We are left with a pile of slabs of polished black wood, three shiny pedals, a handful of bolts, and the outline of the Nile Delta on a piece of rolling carpet.

One hour down.  Two to go.  Picking up all our trophies, we roll to the elevator.  The piano would be too big to fit in standing up, but it slides in quite nicely like this.  As soon as we enter the car, the elevator drops what feels like several inches, as if to make the point that this is not easy work.  Undeterred, we press the button for the upper level, and ascend gracefully.

Once in the ballroom upstairs, we are faced with a new challenge.  The piano is to be placed on a stage three feet off the ground.  We had not counted on this wrinkle!  We roll to the stage, and heave our burden unceremoniously up onto its new perch.  Repeating our steps from downstairs in reverse, we manage to get the piano standing without drama.  However, we do notice that the stage is bowing somewhat under the unaccustomed weight.  The piano tuner dives into his work, and pulls all the strings back into sympathy just as the band walks in.

It's ten-thirty.  We collapse in the hallway, comparing bruises.  Laughing at all the things that might have gone wrong. But didn't.  Soon enough, the jazz band is lighting up the ball room.  We've got two hours to rest - then we have to take the piano back downstairs again.