When Matthew Lien sits down at his Yamaha C7 grand piano, it’s as if the stresses of his life dissipate with every note.
So when his business and his mother’s health began to fail last year, Lien found he needed the soft trill of his piano more than ever.
Last October, Lien’s mother had a stroke while visiting him in his Whitehorse home from San Diego. On top of the health scare, Lien had to manage her exorbitant medical bill while figuring out how to move her up North, as she can
no longer live on her own.
“[My mother’s health] has consumed all my time and vast resources to try and sort that situation,” he says. Through this stressful period, “the hardest thing was not having my piano at hand.”
That piano sat in a recording studio overlooking the busy streets of Taipei, where Lien is best known for his music which combines folk, classical and experimental. The Yukon-based musician has recorded platinum-selling records and earned multiple music nominations across the globe. His unique sound is intrinsically tied to the ivory keys of his grand piano—just as he has been tied to it from the moment he placed his foot on the pedal.
Now the Yamaha is on its way to join Lien in his Yukon home. His Taiwan studio had shut down due to the pandemic, and the music agency Lien works with packed up his belongings in giant wooden crates to ship overseas. The feat took weeks and cost the agency $3,000 to send the piano alone. Lien got a deal for the shipping costs the rest of the way, but could have easily shelled out another few thousand for it.
“Just the idea of that grand piano sailing here across the ocean and it bumping on up the highway to the Yukon, it reminds me of the Red Violin and the journey that an instrument makes.”
The pianist remembers watching the instrument swaying hundreds of feet above the concrete just a few years back in Taipei. A crane carefully lifted the blanket-wrapped piano up four stories and into the windowless frame of his recording studio. All the while, Lien’s heart beat wildly in his chest.
“As soon as it’s out the window, you see [the piano] and it just swings out there with the wind and you’re like, ‘Oh my god!’ It’s really nerve-wracking.”
Lien isn’t the only person to know the anticipation of bringing a grand piano up North, where shipping costs and unpredictable transit methods make moving a piano exorbitantly expensive.
Most of the pianos in the territories are uprights, but the Yukon is home to at least two baby grands—one at the Yukon Arts Centre and the other in Dawson City’s Klondike Institute of Arts.
Iqaluit has a Kawai baby grand at St. Jude’s church, while the NWT has at least three baby grands on display to the public at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre, Calvary Community Church and Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (among others in private homes).
Maureen Crotty-Williams, with Yellowknife’s musical group Table For Five, helped bring one of those pianos here in 2013. The process began thanks to late-friend Robert Gannicott. As former president of the non-profit the Rogan Foundation, he gave the group a $25,000 grant. Table For Five pulled another $5,000 of their own funds together and got a discount from a trucking company that brought the piano up. When it arrived, local piano technician Brian Wainwright pried off the boards of the wooden crate and began assembling the shining instrument.
“And away we went!” says Crotty-Williams, adding that it has been a game changer for live performances. Lien can certainly understand. After all, he still remembers the first time he sat down at his prized Yamaha and the difference it made to his music and to his life.
“When you press that pedal down and the gasp escapes and in that moment it’s like a door opens between your soul and your creative potential that is plugged into the piano, which is plugged into the universe.”