These days, you often can’t give them away, and many fine pianos actually end up in the trash. The market doesn’t care about family or sentimental values or the fact that music may have kept the family together or at least brought home the joy of making music.
In 1931 at the height of the Depression my parents bought a new Steinway grand for their new Chicago apartment. I was born three years later, and the piano (along with 78-rpm records) became my introduction to music—a lifelong passion. My mother played Christmas carols and simple classical pieces on it, dad would hammer out old show tunes, and some notable jazz musicians like Barbara Carroll entertained us at parties.
Other musicians recognized what a great instrument this piano was. When the family moved on from Chicago, so did the piano, to a new home in Highland Park. In 1950 my parents hosted an affair with the Louis Armstrong All-Stars, and Earl Fatha Hines played it and loved it. In the mid-1960s it came to rest in my New York apartment where in 1971 Sir Roland Hanna, the noted jazz musician, came to a party I had and played it. For its later years it took up space at my ex-wife’s house in New Hope, PA.
When Sally and I split up, we had a fight about who would get the piano. At that time she had a house and I was moving around, starting a new life in Rhode Island and doing a lot of itinerant communications work. So she got the piano, and I got the divorce. I think she did play it, a little. But mostly it sat for ten or more years, tuned but unplayed.
When she died the house had to be sold, and I undertook to sell the piano. I wrote to local music schools and got a lot of nice responses and no-thank-yous. I lowered the price and finally got a bite from NYU’s Music Department. They sent two people out from New York to audition the piano. They found it “a very fine instrument” and so we had a deal. Since I used to teach at NYU years ago, I thought it was a perfect home for a pedigreed old Steinway.
Grand pianos are big clunky objects, very heavy. Many people today are perfectly happy with mobile electronic keyboards that offer cheesy programmed accompaniments and sound enhancements. They are light and convenient for band musicians and those content with digital music. As readers of this blog know, I’m never content with digital music even though I do have a Yamaha electric piano to (sometimes) practice on.
Our old family piano in a way held the family together emotionally when we were all younger, analog people. It was more than a fixture; it was a memento of good times and the power of music to create a joyful connection.