Suu Kyi's Piano Tuners Play Key Part in Myanmar History

By Magnier, Mark | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), November 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Suu Kyi's Piano Tuners Play Key Part in Myanmar History


Magnier, Mark, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


YANGON, Myanmar - Ko Paul had been warned that the old Yamaha piano in the upstairs sitting room of the dilapidated lakeside mansion was in bad shape.

Tropical climates aren't great for pianos. Heat warps their sound boxes, humidity swells their pin blocks, reducing string tension, and termites savor an easy meal. But this one was worse than the piano tuner expected that day in 2009.

"Pretty much everything had to be changed, the pins, the dampers, all the hammers," he said in a coffee shop in Yangon. "It was pretty bad off."

Ko Paul spent a week scrounging for low-quality Chinese replacement parts - with Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, under crippling economic sanctions, they were the best he could find - and patched the Yamaha together before tuning it. As he worked, he chatted with the slight woman in her 60s who owned the piano.

It was Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who had been forced to spend years in the heavily guarded mansion under house arrest.

"She wanted me to tell young Burmese not to be afraid, don't live in fear, things will change," he recalled. "And they have."

Ko Paul's contribution was a small footnote to an epic struggle, keeping the old piano alive and lifting the spirits of a brave woman surrounded by hard men intent on breaking her will.

During Suu Kyi's decade and a half of isolation imposed by generals enraged by her opposition party's victory in a 1990 election, the piano had become a symbol of Myanmar's struggle for democracy. A few brave people reportedly slipped past the roadblocks around the mansion on University Avenue to try to hear it, and reassure themselves that she was still alive.

The piano was also on occasion the object of her frustration. In 2004, after hearing that her friend and Burmese poet U Tin Moe was also under house arrest, she reportedly banged it so hard that keys broke.

And in a 1997 interview, she told of bashing its pedals with such vigor in another moment of weakness that a string snapped. "I told you; I have a hot temper," she said to British journalist John Pilger.

It wasn't until 2010 that Suu Kyi would walk free from her home, to a rapturous welcome from her fellow Burmese and democracy activists the world over.

Her release ushered in a period of opening in a homeland that was one of the most closed societies on Earth. In recent months, a new civilian government has released hundreds of political prisoners, eased media restrictions and opened the door to outside contact, paving the way for her election to the parliament.

But for years, the ruling generals waged a psychological war with the opposition leader. While she was kept in near-isolation, Suu Kyi's human contact was limited to two female companions. Her few diversions included listening to BBC News reports, meditating, studying Buddhist sutras and playing a piano that even the generals didn't dare take away.

She was particularly fond of Johann Pachelbel's Canon, which she reportedly played for her husband, Michael Aris, on his last visit in 1997; he died of cancer two years later. Other favorites include Bach, Bartok, Telemann, Mozart and Clementi.

Ko Paul, 42, a portly man with an easy manner, was one of the small tribe of piano tuners called into service unexpectedly, struggling with inadequate materials under the watchful eyes of secret police, but treasuring their brush with Sui Kyi.

He remembers going to Suu Kyi's compound three times starting in 2009 during what would prove to be the waning days of her detention. Decades earlier, his musician father, who'd played piano in a jazz band at Yangon's elegant Strand Hotel, had tuned the same piano for Suu Kyi's mother, receiving coconuts in appreciation.

Security around her lakeside property was extensive, and the secret police had visited his house beforehand as part of a thorough background check. When he arrived with his tool bag, security men inspected everything assiduously before waving him through. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Suu Kyi's Piano Tuners Play Key Part in Myanmar History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.