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September 21, 1979     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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September 21, 1979
 

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Page B-12. HERITAGE. Flerida Jewish Newa. Friday. September 21. 1979 The Million Dollar Piano by CATHERINE ROSENHEIMER,Jerusalem Post Reporter Avner Carrel has had a passionate lifelong affair, which still continues...with a piano. The 78-year-old musician and master craftsman is semi-retired, but still active as a piano technician and teacher. He sits at home in Petah "13k'va, waiting to hear when Danny Kaye will visit him, in preparation for a film about his "Immortal Piano." It is a story which sounds stranger than fiction -- but of which he swears every word is true. Throughout his childhood, Carmi's grandfather regaled him with stories of a legendary piano, known as the harp of King David, which he himself had heard about, but never managed to trace. His grandfather, a concert pianist from Kiev, had played in the homes of European high society, during his wanderings through Europe in the 1880s, before his immigration to Jerusalem. In Rome, King Llmberto and Queen Margaret of Italy attended one of his concerts, and afterward told him that his playing reminded them of a unique piano given to them on their wedding day, with an "unearthly" voice. The piano, built by the /rchisio family of Siena, was an upright, with a Renaissance-style carved wooden exterior casing, made by two Siennese sculptors; Ferri and Bartalozzi. According to legend, the piano was built from wooden pillars of King Solomon's temple, brought back to Rome by Ttus after the destruction of Jerusalem, used in the erection of a pagan house of worship, and later for a church on the same site, and eventually, hundreds of years later, salvaged from the wreckage of an earthquake by the piano builder. The legend said that "the soul of King David's harp, which was hovering in the air, joined the pillars, making its home in that piano." The story of how Carrel did eventually find the piano -- or perhaps, by an extraordinary quirk of fate, of how the piano found him -- is the subject of a book he and his wife wrote 20 years ago. In 1934, Carrel got himself arrested as a suspected assasin by the Rome police, for attempting to approach King Victor F_manuel III on his daily promenade, to ask him about his father's piano. Pianist Arthur Schnabel, with whom he was travelling on a concert tour, managed to attest to his good character and get him released; further enquiries in Italy elicited no knowledge of the existence of the piano. However, Carmi had managed to find a reference to it, in an encyclopedia, presented by the City of Siena to King Llmberto, and even in | 940, with World War II in progress, he travelled to Siena and succeeded, with the help of a local priest, in uncovering pictures and documents of the magnificent piano. The remainder of the story is a series of extraordinary coincidences, leading up to a "happy ending." In 1942, Carmi was a driver in the British army, sent to El-Alamein after the British minesweepers, to collect the spoils of war left behind by the Germans. Their mine detectors picked up the metal of what turned out to be the strings of a piano, buried deep in the sand, and covered entirely in thick plaster. Its sand-clogged works were cleaned out, after Carrel had examined it and found it to be in working order, and it was used by the British forces" musicians to entertain the troops. Later Carrel learned that the piano had been brought to Palestine, to entertain Allied troops in hospitals and convalescent camps. Some months later, he came home to Tel Aviv on leave, only to discover that the self-same plastered piano had been discovered by his three daughters, abandoned on the sidewalk. It had apparently been bought from the British Army for a song, by a junk dealer, and passed from hand to hand, until it was jettisoned as an ugly, unplayable and useless piece of garbage. His daughters insisted that he try to restore it, though he was reluctant, as he had no room at home, and felt the empty casing, with no keyboard, strings, or works, was past any chance of restoration. An unexpected knock dislodged a few pieces of the thick plaster caking the instrument...and Carmi realized, from the imprint of a chiselled angel in the plaster, that he had found the King of Italy's piano. For three years, he says, he spent every spare moment at work on the piano. By 1948, he had rebuilt its interior and restores its exterior to their former glory, and on the day of the declaration of Israel's independence, Pnina Salzman played the piano at a festive concert patronized by Ben-Gurion, at the Machal Hall. Since its "'new lease on life" the Siena piano, accompanied by its restorer, has toured the LI.S. and Europe and appeared in concert halls, on records, radio and television, and been admired by master pianists and even royalty. Last year, ex-Queen of Italy, Marie-Jose de Savoia, visited Carrel and heard him play the piano. "She had tears in her eyes when she listened to it, and offered her patronage to a concert with the Siena piano on behalf of the United Nations International Year of the Child. The concert is to take place this September, in Jerusalem. We asked Carmi if he is not worried that, some day, the Italians might try to reclaim the piano, looted by the Germans, probably by Rommel himself. Carmfs romantic imagination springs to life. In 194_5, he says, he wrote to King Victor Emanuel III, telling him that he had the Siena piano. He claims to be in possession of the "most beautiful letter ever written by a king to a commoner." He is not prepared, however, to show it. His face lights up: "Can you imagine, if there was ever a lawsuit over the ownership of the piano...the piano standing in the courtroom, playing out its magical sounds...the publicity that would generate...and then, at the end of the case, as the climaxing drama, I would produce my letter with a big flourish." Meanwhile, if all goes according to plan, Carrel and his piano may soon be reaping as much glory and publicity as the oid man could ever wish for. At the beginning of last year, he received a letter from Los Angeles producer Arthur Peterson, expressing interest in obtaining the film rights of the whole story. Since then, there have been several phone calls from Los Angeles, but still no written contract. Carmi, a man who waited for 30 years to possess an play the piano of his dreams, is nonetheless becoming impatient. "Flow they tell me that Danny Kaye is eagerly awaiting the finished script -- a musician himself, he is apparently crazy about the story." Although Kaye has virtually given up his screen career, it would be easy to imagine him playing the central role in such a romantic, musical and picturesque story. Carrel says that he received a message, via Arthur Peterson, saying "Tell Carrel I feel old enough to play his grandfather, young enough to play him in his youth." Meanwhile, Avner Carmi waits in Petah Tikva for Danny Kaye to call, and better still, for the day his handsome musical film star will be summoned to Hollywood and he, of course, wRl ]o along to chaperone an instrument which is insured for l million. About to enter his 80th year, he is still confidently optimistic that he will soon see his dream fulfilled. Rabbi Warns TM May Be Idolatrous FlEW YORK (JTA) -- A LlnitedStates, with certain dtes warning that some "ritualistic and rituals, should be ingredients of transcendental regarded as a cult bordering meditation" are "idolatrous" on, and in some respects, and that Orthodox rabbis actual idolatry." should be consulted by Rabbi Schneerson declared prospective users of the it was therefore "imperative" technique was issued by the that when a situation arises Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi invoMng use of TM, before it is /%enachem Schneerson. used, an Orthodox rabbi He issued his warning in an familiar with TM "be consulted address at the Hasidic as to whether the particular movement's world headquar- type is completely devoid of ters in Brooklyn which was idolatry and permissible broadcast to Lubavitch according to Jewish law." centers around the world. He He expressed deep concern said TM, "as it is practiced in for the Jewish men and many countries, including the women, "particularly of the younger generation, who have been caught in the grip of idolatrous cults, in their search for relaxation of their stresses and tensions." He said there were "therapeutic values" in meditation and that some people could be helped with "the proper method" but that some people were resorting to idolatrous methods not ritualistic implications" but that these successes were not adequately publicized and therefore not attracting those seeking help. He issued a strong plea to psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, psychologists and all others active in mental health service that additional research be done to determine exactly how meditation devoid of any rites knowing where else to turn. and rituals can, as a medical He said many doctors in the technique, help those in need mental health field were of relief from mental stress successful in helping patients and emotional tension, and through "'a proper form of that such methods be meditation devoid of any perfected and adopted. Alan, Margie, Tally & Mark To A// Our To All Our in the The A aron