In the aftermath of Harvey, heartbreaking tales of destruction and loss across Houston were countered by those of individuals and organizations that put their lives on hold to shelter, feed, and console the thousands that lost their homes, possessions, and sense of security.
Houston’s music scene was no different.
The video below, filmed during floods caused by the hurricane, profoundly captures a small experience of what many of the city’s professional and amateur musicians faced during and after the storm.
Friendswood resident Kambiz Pish, whose home took on three feet of water, spent five days stuck on the second floor with his wife Maryan and 15-year-old daughter Pega. He took a moment to wade downstairs through the muck to make coffee. Mercifully, they still had clean running water and working gas with which to cook.
Cabin fever setting in, Pega, a piano student for eight years, followed, slogging through more than a foot of stagnant water to perform an impromptu rendition of her mother’s favorite song, “Mariage D’Amour” by French musician Paul de Senneville.
“I’m going to make you happy and play you something to cheer you up,” Pega told her parents.
Kambiz picked up his only working camera – several others they used to document cherished annual trips to national parks across North America perished in the waters – and started to record. While news outlets covered similar stories of other pianists tinkering away at waterlogged keys recalling the orchestra playing as the Titanic sank, Pish’s video, literally and figuratively, strikes a chord.
Pega, standing in the water-filled front room of her home, eloquently plays the keys of the Schafer and Sons instrument she picked out with her piano teacher a few years prior, which she contributed to with money she saved up. Some of the notes are slightly off-key, likely due to the water damage, but the performance is powerful – melancholy yet confident, mournful but courageous.
Her mother, slightly hidden by the doorframe, dances with solemn grace in the background. At one point, Pega hesitates, smiling to the camera, as if to brush off the absurdity of her recital space.
“It’s very emotional the way the notes are composed,” Pega said of the song, following her first day back at school at Clear Horizons in the Clear Creek School District where she is in the 10th grade. “With so much devastation around us, it was something that was happy, it was nice to play.”
The Pish’s weren’t the only ones to lose their beloved instruments. Several pianos, stereo equipment, and record collections lined the curb in Pish’s neighborhood. Enlarge that to a scale of millions of residents and the immensity of what Houston musicians and music fans are dealing with after the storm and it is overwhelming.
Kambiz knows something about starting over, though. He immigrated to the U.S. from Iran in 1984 to seek a better life and give his family the freedom to pursue their dreams. He is rebuilding his life once again, tearing out drywall and flooring, his daughter's piano still standing in the same spot of the same room, now without walls.
“I was going to take it down,” Pish said of the video after it started to illicit a response from thousands of viewers. “But I thought there was more to it than the flood — this gives some hope, a positive message. Something about music changes things.”
With flood waters now receded, despite rusting wires distorting its notes, the piano still carries a tune. Strings bowed, but not broken.