MIB. Today, that isn't short-hand for a top secret 'alien threat' division of Her Majesty's Secret Service. Today, it stands for musical instrument birthday. As it turns out, this kind of MIB is a secret of sorts - one that ties directly and powerfully to our stereos and the much debated challenge of involving the younger generation in this very pursuit of us old farts.

The key to it is a four-letter word no less: K-O-R-G. Well, in our case it was. You might add a few and make it Casio or Roland or Yamaha or any number of brands. What am I talking about? My wife's rebirthday is what. Let me explain. When she was seven, an ordinary pneumonia got misdiagnosed. This promptly developed into a rheumatic fever which, unbenownst to her until she was 20, attacked her heart and modified one of its valves. Then she keeled over unconscious one fine day and the good doc in the hospital diagnosed a mitral valve prolapse. That was 30-some years ago. Surgery then had a 50:50 chance of success. Failure meant a nice polished head stone if you were lucky. So Ivette opted against invasive surgery then with the understanding that she could live a normal healthy life if she abstained from strenuous exercise, avoided inverted positions and slept with a high pillow under her head. Plus, becoming a vegetarian would be a good thing too the doctor opined. As a blood type A -- if you believe in Dr. Peter J. D'Adamo's findings as we do -- this dietary advice came natural, too. All in all, my wife-to-be would indeed enjoy a perfectly normal life. Her errant mitral valve wouldn't act up in earnest until very recently when it had worn out enough over the years to leak a fair amount of blood back into the lungs. This becomes the prelude for eventual congestive heart failure. In our case, the warning signs dictated immediate action if the fancy head stone was to wait.

The already purchased tickets for the Munich hifi show ended promptly in the trash while Germany remained on the new booking, just with an earlier departure date, a later return and a more northerly final destination. Accordingly, we just returned from a one-week stay in Kiel's Uni Clinic under the miraculous knife of Head Cardiologist Dr. Cremer and another three weeks in the Compass Clinic on the Schwentine river where Ivette recovered from a biological mitral valve replacement install. This is to give her an estimated 20 years on her otherwise programmed expiration date. And her biological birthday is next month. So you see, the time had come to think about a combined rebirthday gift to celebrate her new life. What she asked for was a piano. Aha, finally you grasp where we're headed. As a conservatory-trained clarinetist, I'm of course a snob when it comes to musical instruments. Do it right and get something good is my motto. Needless to say, superior pianos are expensive, sizeable and heavy. Living in Cyprus at present but likely not forever, I'm not really keen on eventually freighting a piano off the island (nor could I afford a good piano without slowly saving up for one - and this occasion, just like the prior one, demanded immediate action).

What we got her today was a digital Korg piano, the kind without inbuilt speakers but with a variable output that can connect directly into your, yes, hifi. Tada. Now any of the many systems in our crib can be converted into a fine musical instrument. SET piano with 45 triodes for the right hand and 8 x 10" high-efficiency woofers and 500 watts of high-current silicon muscle for the left? You bet. Anything is up for grabs now. Make no mistake, while the active version of her Korg with inbuilt speakers sounded really quite impressive in the store, it was nothing compared to what the passive sounds like now tapping into her modest Aura Note/Druid Credenza system. Plus, achievable SPLs are completely off the charts against what the more expensive active Korg with its cheap-ass ICs driving tiny drivers was capable of. And despite the hot weather, this piano will never go out of tune. Never mind that the modified Eminence Legend 10" wide-banders in her Zu speakers are MI issue.

The moral of this story is simple. Should junior show no interest in his old man's stereo, a trip to ye olde MI emporium with its Fenders could remedy this disaster in a heartbeat. Digital pianos and synth keyboards start out at a few hundred bucks. The key feature you're looking for to spread the gospel is a stereo output which'll terminate in professional 1/4" plugs. You'll need a 1/4"-to-RCA patch cord. I picked one up for seven bucks today to get us started, all 3 meters of it. I'll order up something longer and better from a credible hifi company next week. Just imagine junior's eyes when you do the same for him and he or she hears the difference loud and clear. Even better, next time you want to upgrade your amp, you'll have your own kids rooting for you. "Mom, it'll make my piano sound so much better - and I'll practice so much longer, promise." Hey, hifi nerds need all the help they can yet. The very survival of our species is at stake after all.

So whaddya say, buster? Mosey on over to your local MI center and bring home a set of black and whites. They also come with headphone outputs in case junior gets so inspired, there'll be tunes into the wee hours on Sunday mornings. Needless to say, guitars too may apply. Who said those need distortion? And as our example shows, this isn't just for kids. Your wife might enjoy learning to play. Perhaps even you - though I'm told that an interest in hifis and music often don't go hand in hand. If that's true, here's a fringe benefit for that stereo devil riding your neck shotgun. If you want to know just how low your speakers really don't go, set your son's new piano to organ mode. That'll automatically shift each key an octave lower. I bet your speakers roll off earlier than you thought as you descend those keys. That'll be just the motivator you needed to finally get that truly full-range setup you always dreamed about. Cap'n Nemo, here I come with my thundering Bach Toccata. Oh vey, there goes peace with the neighbors.

PS: Heartfelt thanks are due to our benefactor without whom my wife's surgery would not have been possible with such instant response time. We shall be forever in your debt. Thanks also to all the well-wishers who prayed for us and sent their love and regards. Based on the results, it sure worked magic!