Normally, one has to keep an eye on kids with markers. When an adult is seen with a marker in hand, it's usually not a sign for alarm. This used to be the case, anyway.
A few weeks back my kindergartner had a playdate with a classmate from school. Because it was their first "date," the mom decided to stay for a while. I was working from home so I made polite chit-chat for a few minutes and then excused myself. Our nanny stayed below to get the kids some snacks, while the mom--who happens to be a piano teacher--played a few sprightly tunes on the 1910 Chickering piano that is a family heirloom of my husband. I worked upstairs happily while she played.
The next evening, my husband sat in the near-darkness, idly tickling the keys. Suddenly he gave a hideous roar of outrage. I ran in to see what was the matter. On about 12 of the piano keys, the notes (C, D, G, etc.) had been penned in bright blue marker. In a vintage music book of Christmas songs, the same blue marker had been applied. The notes were written very carefully, clearly by an adult hand.
We managed to get the marks off with some assiduous rubbing and pure, old-fashioned spittle. But I sent the following note to the mom:
"I don't know if you were aware of this yesterday, but someone actually wrote in blue marker on the ivory keys of our antique piano during our playdate. There were also notes written in the old music book we had on the top of the piano, in the same marker. (I assume this happened while I was upstairs working.) We are trying to get the marks off but worried about damaging the keys, since the marker used seems to be leaving a tint/stain behind....
We're not very happy about this so just wondering how it might have happened. This piano has been in our family for years.
Thanks for any insight."
I thought this was an awfully restrained note.
And she wrote back:
"I am so sorry. The best way to clean the ivory keys is:
I don't know how old this piano actually is, but if it is 50 or more years old, I am pretty sure that the keys are ivory, and ivory tends to yellow over age. DO NOT use chemical cleaners on the keys if they are ivory. The best thing to use for cleaning piano keys is a solution of vinegar and water. Ivory keys used to be the norm.
I can do this for you if you want. Also ivory is like "teeth" and many people use white toothpaste as well. Do not use water."
How about SPIT? I wanted to ask. And, if one is so knowledgeable about ivory keys, why would one choose BLUE MAGIC MARKER as a writing tool? Would you go to someone's house and write on their wall? What type of pen would you use? I, for one, would choose BLUE MAGIC MARKER.
A little while later, this email arrived:
" My friend a piano technician at the Steinway piano store also told me that rubbing alcohol mixed with water on a cloth is a sollution they use for their Steinways."
This was very helpful. I have learned a lot about caring for ivory keys through this process, and I hope you have learned a great deal as well. Remember, no water!
As for the book, I fear that none of these methods will make an impact. But at least I'll know what keys I'm playing when I launch into "Jingle Bells"!
A second playdate has not yet been arranged. When it is, I will be packing several Sharpies.