Moving pianos

A story about the art of anything

We live on the second floor of a small apartment building in San Francisco.

The other day, I heard a bunch of commotion coming from a handful of men just below our patio. The voices were loud, but I couldn’t make out the words. I stepped out onto the patio and peered over the edge to investigate.

Below I found four men deftly navigating an upright piano through the maze of hallways and stairs down to the street level.

They were surgical in their intensity and precision. And to stay in sync, they were shouting commands back and forth to one another.

“Slowly, slowly. Drift the tail end down an inch.”
“Perfect. Now slide your end 3 inches to the right.”
“Perfect. Now let’s take it one step forward.”
“Perfect. Pause right here. Pivot slowly.”
“Hold right there. Great.”
“You guys still got a good handle on it up there?”
“Yeah, we’re solid.”
“Great. Let’s ease this down the stairs slowly. We’re almost home.”

You see, our neighbor on the floor below us is a professional pianist. We would often hear him playing in the afternoons and early evenings. It was wonderful. But, today was moving day. And these men had been tasked with moving the precious instrument out of the building and into the truck below.

The hundred-foot journey took ten captivating minutes.

I couldn’t look away. 

When they finally descended the final step and managed to set the piano down safely on the ground level, the four men burst into hoots and hollers as the clap of high fives echoed through the neighborhood.

Sweat dripping down and smiles sweeping across their faces, they embraced and congratulated each other on the flawless extraction like they’d hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth.

Their joy was rooted in something deeper.

For these men, this wasn’t just piano moving. This was piano moving.

This was skill, precision, craft, togetherness — elevated to art.

I know that may seem odd to say. Who could find something inspiring about piano moving? Most would say, you’re not supposed to love this job like that. Right?

But I assure you, there was no difference between the art of the man who played the instrument and the art of the men who moved it.

These men were fully immersed in their work with a conviction and sense of togetherness I’ve rarely witnessed in any line work.

After a few minutes of post-game analysis and recapping of the highlights, the guys swiftly raised the piano into the truck, covered and strapped it down, and drove away.

I’ve always wondered who those artists were. I wanted to track them down and ask them how they’re able to foster such presence and camaraderie in their work. But, there wasn’t even a company logo on the truck.

It’s so easy to diminish or dismiss the small, the mundane, the thankless, the difficult, the low-paying. But, art knows nothing of those categories.

Art is a way of being, a way of doing anything.

Even moving pianos.

🤝 Stay in touch

I send an email several times a year with a handful of the most interesting things I’ve written or uncovered at home, abroad, and on the web.

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