Past pianos


This week I came across an article about pianos. Old pianos, specifically, the upright style.

Like many other Baby Boomers, that was the kind of piano I grew up with–the big, solid, imposing upright that was manufactured in the early 1900s. It was taller than most of the children who learned to play piano on it, easily weighed 400-500 pounds, and it had a lovely, rich tone because its sounding board was the same size as one in a grand piano–just stood up rather than laid flat.

For much of the 20th century, every self-respecting home had a piano, what could be termed the first home entertainment system. According to this article, the peak year for new piano sales was 1909. With some fluctuations due to events like the Great Depression and World War II, piano sales were strong and steady for decades. By the late 1970s, though, piano sales were on the decline.

It turns out that Baby Boomers stopped buying new pianos about then.

I’m not sure where the upright piano I learned on came from. It wasn’t a family piece, as is often the case. I am sure that it wasn’t new when we got it, and who knows how many times it had been passed along before It seemed to somehow just magically appear one day in what we called the little room. (It’s interesting that the smallest room in the house had the biggest piece of furniture.)

And then piano lessons commenced, as taught by my grandma, the local piano teacher. So I became quite good friends with the old hulk of an instrument, thanks to the series of piano instruction books written by John W. Thompson. The first was titled “Teaching Little Fingers to Play.” The last piece in that book was a duet of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” to be played with the student and the teacher. I never did get very adept at it, because at age 5 I was so tickled that my grandma was sitting beside me playing her own part that all I did was giggle when we attempted playing together.

According to the article, while the day of the home piano is passing, there’s no decline in piano lessons–for youngsters and adults alike. I’d say that’s a good sign.

Besides, the life span of a piano is about fifty years; at that point it needs rebuilding if it is to continue to be played as intended. So it’s okay if some of those old pianos are retired.

Especially if we continue to make our own kind of music.