The boy was born in a blizzard at 11:11 in 1898 at night into a fractured home. He was not planned, his father was gone and he wasn’t given a name. At ten, he was living in an orphanage in Bushwick, a heavily Dominican neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the orphanage he had very few friends, the ones that he made came and went as new families came and picked them up. The only constant in the orphanage was a large, black grand piano that was often adorned by Ray, the elderly Janitor. He would stay after his shift and play songs; the boy learned the keys by watching from across the room.
Then one day the janitor stopped coming in. The old man had passed. The boy was totally alone except for his piano, and so he played. He pounded the keys with all of his frustration and no training. Wild, chaotic sounds came out of him and that great piano. It raised him in a way.
The boy went on to become a pianist in Manhattan, he was successful and played beautiful music to enormous theatres.
In the winter of his life, he was unmarried, had no children, no parents and only a few friends that he had made through his musical endeavors. He bought the piano from that dingy old orphanage and brought it into his large apartment. Years went by, he played in all of the great music halls around the world. But he never felt as alive and as pure and as comfortable as he did when he played the old piano.
He was not a religious man. The orphanage was Catholic, but he never felt a connection with it. He knew great success in his life but never felt a true sense of identity or happiness. He had played music because he thought that if he could play the most beautiful song ever played that he would feel whole. But he didn’t. Women came and went, friends drifted off. Time rolled on.
He and the piano aged together, and in his last days he recorded a version of “Mary had a little lamb”. It was beautifully played, and it became his first commercial success, posthumously. Children around the world heard his tune and it brought them joy. It brought families together around their music boxes. Despite his sadness, he brought happiness into the world.
The piano has since stopped working. But his music lives on.