Culture Philosophy
R. L. Solberg  

Piano Tuning & Descartes

Last summer we got a free upright piano. Even though it was a somewhat beat-up middle-of-the-road piano from 1987, I was pretty excited because it’s the first piano I’ve ever owned. We had to move it ourselves and, fortunately, we had some friends who were willing to help us out.

Our friends thought they were just here for the football party.

As you might imagine, the piano was a bit out of tune by the time it reached its final resting place in our front room. Nevertheless, its been a whole lot of fun to play, not just for me, but for my daughter Maggie as well, who quickly flew past me in our friendly competition to learn Beethoven’s “Für Elise”.

I don’t have a very good ear for pitch, but the tuning has been bothering me for a while, so I thought it might be interesting to learn how to tune a piano. I watched a couple of YouTube videos and Googled a couple of articles on the topic. It seemed a little complicated, especially for a pitch-challenged guy like me, but in the end, I found confidence growing in the bare patch of my mind that ignorance had worn away. (Which is how I have historically found myself in these sorts of situations.)

So I decided to give it a shot and found a piano tuner key on for $5. As I was checking out I was informed that, if I placed an order for $35 or more, I could get free shipping. This reminded me that I had a book on my Amazon wish list I’d been meaning to purchase, so I thought this would be a great time to order it. I added “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview” to my cart, but it was only $25 and I needed another small purchase to earn the free shipping. (Marketers, if you’re reading this take note: your Free Shipping strategy is working like gangbusters in my house.) So I perused the other books on my wishlist and found a copy of Descartes “Meditations on First Philosophy” in softcover for only $5.  This completed my order.

We still need to buy a proper piano bench.

Fast forward a couple of weeks; I have now completed my attempt to tune the piano, but I can’t tell if I was successful or not. I know it’s more in tune with A440, since when I started the process I found the instrument was a quarter-tone flat. Whether it’s more in tune with itself, I’m embarrassed to admit, I don’t have a good enough ear to tell.

As for the “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview” textbook, I’ve only managed to read the table of contents and browse through a couple of chapters; enough to know that I’m very interested in reading it, and make plans to take notes as I do.

What has really captured my attention is Descartes’ book. The day after my Amazon order arrived I left on a 5-day business trip and decided to bring this small book along. All I really knew of Descartes before ordering the book was his famous proposition, “Cogito ergo sum”, (I think, therefore I am), which, to be honest, I thought was a bit of a silly idea.  But his name kept coming up in different podcasts and articles, so I thought it would be worth a read.

I really enjoy reading books written in different eras (this one was written in 1641) and in different cultures. In this book, Descartes builds on his famous proposition, walking the reader through a thought process that I found fascinating and inspiring. I was surprised to find that it actually dovetailed with some of my recent thoughts and writings surrounding the ideas of identity and self.

René Descartes. We have the same hair. Coincidence?
René Descartes. We have the same hair. Coincidence?

It occurred to me this is the kind of thing that makes me happy that God has so ordained that I should live in this era of the Internet and technology. In fact, this post was inspired as I thought about the two opposing sides of my experience trying to tune my piano. On one hand, it was a perfect demonstration of the ephemeral, ADHD aspect of a modern culture inundated with too many choices and options. I bounced from thought to thought, topic to topic, like a pinball careening off rubber bumpers; from a free piano to a 17th-century philosopher.

On the other hand, if this was 1641 and I wanted to tune my piano, I would not have ended up at a bookstore, much less with access to the ideas that I have now. While I take issue with a lot of aspects of modern culture—the increasing speed of life, the 24/7 news cycle, etc.—I have to admit I love the amazing and near-instant access we have to knowledge and ideas on a global level.

What do you think?

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