Because I am the ultimate piano nerd, one of my goals in life is to have a home full of decor made from pianos.
For a variety of reasons, there eventually comes an unfortunate time (hopefully after a century or so of love, care, and musical joy) when a piano is no longer able to serve its original purpose as a musical instrument. Perhaps it barely plays, or no longer holds a tune, or both. Regardless, while the choice to rebuild or restore the instrument is occasionally made, the more common choice exercised these days is to have the piano unceremoniously hauled off the the dump. But a third option, to salvage and repurpose as much of a piano’s parts for furniture, functional decor, and art, has emerged as an increasingly popular choice. Because although some pianos can no longer help us make music, that’s not to say that everything about them has lost their value or splendor.
Take the square grand, for instance. By and large, due to improvements in piano technology, these rectangular (hey, no one ever said piano designers had to describe piano shapes with geometric accuracy) models are by an largely obsolete. But their frames are ideal for repurposing into desks or dining tables, while their innards make for cool, unique decor.
My favorite jazz pianist of all time, the legendary Dave Brubeck, passed away yesterday at the age of 91, one day shy of his birthday.
(I must thank my sister here for introducing me to Dave’s music by pushing upon me a box set of his music from BMG’s now-defunct mail order service waaaaaaaay back when I was in high school.)
For those of you unfamiliar with Brubeck’s life and pioneering style of composition, here’s a sampling from the outpouring of remembrances published throughout the world as news of his passing spread yesterday (these writers sum up Dave much more eloquently than I ever could.)
A common thread between the two posts seems to be a pervading sense of alarm that pianos will soon be obsolete due to our wired society in which these hulking acoustic instruments no longer seem to fit.
There is no question that advances in technology, especially devices that allow us to enjoy music in a passive (listening-only as opposed to actively playing) way, have drastically changed the position of pianos in the average American household.
Through the 19th and into the 20th centuries, prior to the advent of the phonograph, the piano was the main source of entertainment in people’s homes. After all, the piano, the most versatile of instruments except for its lack of portability, provided recreation in the form of listening to, playing, and singing along with music. A piano could be the melody, the harmony, the accompaniment, or all of the above all at once. The popularity of pianos was reflected by the number of piano manufacturers that existed in the United States, which numbered well into the hundreds into the early 1900s, then plummeted due to the quadruple-whammy effect of the record player, the radio, the Great Depression, and World War II. Today, the number of piano manufacturers in the US can be counted on less than one hand.
My Google Alert for “piano” exploded as a multitude of other news sources provided their own commentary on the issue, along with the reactions of the general public as they started discussion boards and wrote letters to the editor with their own opinions on how pianos that have reached the end of their life spans should be treated. Weeks later, follow-up articles, blog posts, and published letters to the editor on the issue still pop up on my Google Alert with regularity.
The prevailing responses have been of horror, blaming adults for quitting the piano lessons of their youth, decrying the barbarism of shoving pianos backwards into a dump, lamenting our fast-paced society that throws anything away at the drop of a hat, and filled with plaintive wails of,
“WHY CAN’T THEY BE DONATED TO [insert worthy non-profit organization here]?!?!?!”
I have witnessed said horrified reactions numerous times, most recently when a person banged on the door of the piano shop where I work and wanted to know if he could have the piano sitting outside by the back dumpster.