Pianos, Unlike Furniture, Need…

Pianos are in lousy shape
No matter where we look!
In colleges and ladies clubs,
In churches and recital halls,
Department stores and middle schools!
Noisy actions, clanking pedals,
Touch and tone far from ideal.
(And please don’t ask about the tunings!)

The pianos are often good brands, too. Bought new, not cheap. If they gave value for money, what value was not spoiled by letting them degrade from Day One? Were they just for looking good to donors who paid for them? For carrying a famous brand name? For advertising our cul-chah?

Or was the intended purpose truly musical, in which case, something has went wrong! Is it the well-known difficulty of raising money for maintenance compared to capital expenditure? Can we change maintenance into capital expenditure? When Stephen Ross offered the U. of Michigan’s Business School 50 million bucks to name the school for him, the Dean thought for a moment and said coolly, “Make it a hundred.” Can we take a cue from this inspiring story, and instead of raising a piano’s mere purchase price from a donor, raise three times the price, using the extra to endow maintenance? The plaque inscribed, “Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Brad Donor,” will read instead,

This Instrument and
Its Maintenance in Perpetuity
The Generous Gift of
Mr. & Mrs. Bradley T. Donor

But maybe money is not the problem? Is it rather our ignorance of how to preserve the instrument? Or are we running into the shortage of good tuners? (See “The Endangered Piano Technician”.) I once saw a concert grand return from a rebuild shop unable to be tuned. It was inspected by technician after technician for six months without success, until Joe Biscegli, of the Steinway factory, diagnosed it over the phone, and the repair took only two minutes. But Mr. Biscegli’s retired, and there aren’t many such magicians.

Piano owners need to know that long-term care averaged over 30 years costs one-tenth of replacement cost per year, just like an office typewriter. (Remember those?) Tuning’s needed at each change of season, or on concert days, if the instrument’s used for concerts. The tough part is to find a tuner-tech who knows his stuff; but how wonderful, what joy, once found!

Copyright © James Boyk 2013. All rights reserved.
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