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Aging piano sounds its last notes by the Pacific

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POSTED February 11, 2013 4:58 p.m.

HALF MOON BAY (AP) — As waves lapped in the background, the pianist tapped out Schumann, Debussy and Chopin at sunset, on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean where he had planned to let the baby grand succumb to the elements.

Not for long: Half Moon Bay officials have told San Francisco Bay area artist Mauro Ffortissimo to remove the old instrument because he lacks a permit to keep it on the grassy patch where the piano has sat since Feb. 1.

Fforitissimo, whose real last name is Dinucci, will keep playing for locals until Thursday, when city officials say it must be removed.

Ffortissimo and some friends lugged it there under the cover of a foggy night, and he had planned to play the same pieces on it each night at sunset as it got warped by the elements.

"The piano's getting progressively out of tune, out of whack," Ffortissimo said. "I'm doing the same thing, but nature's changing the piano. Everything's in flux."

On Friday, dozens came to hear "Sunset Piano," and sat on the grass with wine and blankets to ward off the evening chill and watch the sun drop into the Pacific.

"This is the coolest thing," said Arlene Haskins, 60, of Half Moon Bay. "We've got wine, music, a view — this is the best restaurant in town."

Ffortissimo said he and his friends will cart away the piano when the code enforcers come. After that, the piano will take one last spin on a boat thanks to the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club. Then, for its final performance, Ffortissimo plans to burn the piano in a field on his property.

Elida Oettel, the piano's original owner, said she grew up with the baby grand as her family moved it to each of their homes in Southern California, Panama City, San Rafael and, last, Half Moon Bay. Oettel's children learned to play on it, but she recently had to abandon it when financial troubles forced her to move.

"It has a lot of memories," Oettel said. "We would put Christmas decorations on it, have family jam sessions around it, the whole neighborhood would come over."

The new owners of Oettel's former home gave Ffortissimo the baby grand after finding its aging strings were too rusty to be tuned.

Oettel said she was glad to see the instrument being feted in its final two weeks.

"While it was in our home, it was great. But maybe it got rusted because it wasn't taken care of," she said. "This, though, is a wonderful idea. If only we all got this much attention when we die."

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