The piano is a dying fixture in the American home. So claims a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.
105,000 acoustic pianos (upright and grand) were sold in the US in 2000. By 2007 sales had plunged to 54,000. Given today’s economy, we could be chopping them for firewood in a few years.
People are buying electronic keyboards instead – keyboards that are light, portable, and include attachments that control the furnace, shampoo the carpet, and flip pancakes.
This is very bad news for me.
I am the keeper of a 1936 Steinway baby grand – a gift from my mother to my son, who is a talented pianist. Maybe I should say was a talented pianist. We refurbished it at great expense and he played the heck out of it from age 11 till he left for college in 2001.
A few months later I bought a too-big home because it had a living room spacious enough to accommodate his precious piano which he would return to claim any minute.
First issue: he’s scarcely touched it in eight years, even when he was living at home the last few months.
Second issue: he’s globe-trotting for the forseeable future. A baby grand will not fit in his backpack. And when he returns it will probably not fit in some shoebox bachelor apartment either.
Third issue: my own future cottage/condo/shoebox won’t have space for a piano unless I put a mattress on top of it and call it my bed.
There’s so much history with this piano. My grandparents bought it for my mom as a college graduation present ($990 for the piano, $10 for the bench = $1,000 total). She taught singing for 70 years with it, playing it so much the brass sustain pedal was worn to a nub. My two sisters and I shed tears of frustration on its (real) ivory keys at our daily practice sessions.
After being refurbished and refinished the piano was appraised at $40k.
Needless to say it’s one of the biggest and most emotionally loaded THINGS that must be dealt with in this downsizing process. Not to mention the pain in my heart that my son’s connection to the piano seems have come undone.
He and I need to have a little chat about the piano’s future…
Meanwhile here’s more from the LA Times story…
The piano has been the center of many American homes for generations, not only a proclamation of a love of music but also often a statement about striving for success.
“In a very traditional sense, the piano did stand for something. It was a symbol of mobility, moving up,” especially among immigrant families, said Joe Lamond, president of the International Music Products Assn., based in Carlsbad and known as NAMM. Some real estate agents still will move a piano into a house that’s for sale to class it up, he said.
In many homes these days, a piano isn’t so much a musical instrument as it is just another piece of furniture. ….
In the 21st century, the acoustic piano seems to be a relic of another era. Jeffrey Lavner, a piano teacher at the Colburn School in downtown L.A., puts it this way: “I think piano playing is a little like black-and-white movies.” [ouch!]
… Many forces have contributed to the acoustic piano’s troubles. Start with electronic keyboards and digital instruments, with their improving quality and alluring gadgets such as metronomes, USB ports, headphones and recording devices. Not to mention their generally lower price.
“We live in a digital age,” said Brian Majeski, editor of Music Trades magazine. “You have to redefine the instrument.”
And in a time of foreclosures and downsizing, the expense of a traditional piano — which can run from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 or more — may seem untenable, especially for a child who may be eager to play but has no track record in the rigors of daily practice. What’s more, for students, there is ferocious competition for the hours between school and sleep: Homework or video games? Soccer or ballet? Facebook or TV?
In a survey of piano teachers conducted in 2005 for the Piano Manufacturers Assn. International, 89% said that the primary reason a child drops lessons is “too many other activities.” …
[Cross-posted at 365pwords . Piano is a great p word.]