What is 4 feet tall, bright red, has 88 keys and alerts you to visitors? Your doorbell, of course. But only if you’re Vincent Berndt.
More than a few folks driving through Vickery Place on their way to Sprouts for vitamins or to Knox-Henderson for libations, have done a double take when they pass by Berndt’s house. There it sits on his porch: an old upright piano, painted bright red, with “DOORBELL” emblazoned across the front board, just above the pedals.
Born in Gainesville, Berndt and his family moved often for his father’s work in defense systems, eventually settling down in the Dallas area. When he graduated from high school, he picked up a guitar and fell in love with it. “Music is my passion,” he says. “I get lost while playing and always have.” Admitting that he’s always had a “rebellious streak,” Berndt tried college, feeding his creative soul with courses at the University of Texas at Arlington in theater and graphic arts before he decided to work full-time tending bar.
Around the same time, he did a little acting. “I loved doing Shakespeare.” He experimented with visual art, creating modern works filled with geometric shapes and even a few Jackson Pollack-inspired splatter pieces. But music kept calling. He kept strumming his guitar and attempted to put together bands, but they never quite gelled.
That is, until 2000. He formed his first band and began building a network of musicians. Enter the piano. When a fellow musician announced that he would relocate and didn’t want the hassle of moving his old piano, he gave it to Johnny Bone, singer in Berndt’s band. “We rescued it from his apartment on Wycliff,” Berndt recalls. Because Bone had no room for it, they moved it to a back room in Berndt’s house.
Not too long afterward, Bone decided to move back to Georgia. Bone also happened to owe Berndt some money. Berndt laughs as he remembers the deal his friend Johnny made with him. Using his best Cajun accent to mimic the New Orleans-raised Bone, Berndt quotes him: “Hey, bro, I’m gonna leave you that piano since I owe you $400.”
If only the piano could talk. Lore has it, according to Berndt, that the piano made a trip or two overseas, to Switzerland. The 1920’s era Remington brand upright built in Indiana was also said to have sat in a classroom, perhaps a church school. Those 88 keys might well have produced “Amazing Grace,” “Row Row Row Your Boat,” and, later, rock and roll at the hands of Berndt and friends who are currently making the rounds as rock and roll band !diot Savant.
Berndt intended to rehab the piano, restore it to its former glory and brush up his keyboard skills. That plan was aborted, however, when he discovered that repairing merely the missing and broken ivory on the keys would cost more than $1,000.
After a while, Berndt moved the piano from the back room and out to the front porch because he needed the space. There it sat for a while, until one day when Berndt’s artist friend, Darrell Hargrave, came by for a visit. “You know, I’ve always wanted to do a large piece like that,” mused Hargrave about the piano.
“I turned it over to Darrell since he’s the artist,” Berndt says. But Berndt had one unwavering stipulation: “I told him I want DOORBELL on it.”
“My original vision,” remembers Hargrave, “was Gucci pink on pink with white letters.” Unhappy with the result, Hargrave painted over it with bright red, plus a touch of blue on the fall board — the hinged keyboard cover. And, of course, he finished it off with giant letters on the front board: “DOORBELL.”
Hargrave had always counted on Berndt to name his works of art. Berndt christened it “Doorbell.”
Berndt loved the piano’s new life as art. It made him happy. But it was not until he was out of the country a few weeks later that he discovered the unusual porch piece made his neighbors happy, too. While in Italy on a bucket-list trip, a friend sent him a screenshot from the Next Door app. There on the site was a photo of Doorbell with this comment: “Kudos to my Vickery Place neighbor for giving me a smile on my morning walk.”
Since then, neighbors have told him how much they enjoy seeing it. Even door-to-door solicitors get a kick out of it. Berndt remembers one young man who eventually showed up at his house after working the neighborhood. “He said he’d been wanting to play it all day.”
Has anyone played any lovely melodies on it?
“It’s really not playable, “ Berndt says. “I’d love to hear ‘Fur Elise’ on it, but it’s kind of hard to play when the notes stick. Mostly, I hear ‘Chopsticks.’ ”
As you might expect, the neighborhood kids can’t resist the temptation to hammer away on it. But Berndt is philosophical about it. “That’s what it’s there for. And if they want to bang on it, isn’t that a positive thing? I don’t think creativity is promoted enough. If that’s something I can do for the neighborhood kids, that’s cool.”
Berndt’s plans for Doorbell? For now, seal it to protect the paint. Long-term, he can’t see ever parting with it. He talks of perhaps moving in a year or two, but Doorbell goes with him. “I can just imagine prospective buyers asking if Doorbell stays,” he grins. His answer would be a resounding “no.”
“The piano is an expression of my personality: my sense of humor, my passion for music, my quirkiness, and that little rebellious streak I’ve got.”
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