Wonderful old pianos

When I was a child, my parents did some remodeling in the living room. Our home was an on-going project with a large family. My parents added a second story, then put an addition on the back of the house, remodeled a bathroom, and it seemed as if there was always some kind of a project going on at our home. The living room remodel included removing the french doors that separated the formal dining room from the parlor and creating a single large room. A built-in desk was constructed to make a work space for family business and one wall was filled with custom cabinets that held, among other things, a television set and a stereo, both of which my father had built from Heathkit.

One corner of the room had high custom cabinets over the family piano, an upright that had been in our mother’s nome when she was growing up. The grand oak cabinet was a truly beautiful piece of furniture and the piano was an important part of our home. All of us children took piano lessons and our mother played the piano nearly every day. We had appointed times for practice and the piano was definitely more used than the television.

After I had grown up, our family built a new log home where our mother spent her summers for many years. Shortly after the completion of that home another upright piano was purchased from friends and moved to the cabin. The piano that was in our living room now is in the home of a nephew in Corvallis, Oregon. The one at the cabin is still there, though it is rarely played these days. My sister and I have had a couple of conversations about what to do with the piano. She did some searching on the internet and discovered that it really is a good piano and has some value if the right customer can be found.

The last sentence is key: “if the right customer can be found.” The truth is that finding customers for old pianos is difficult. I know because over the years I’ve been involved in a lot of “horse trading” over pianos. Churches tend to collect pianos. Families have pianos that they no longer want and when they can’t find customers who will pay what they believe the piano is worth, they donate it to the church. Some of these donations are genuine treasures. Our church has 5 pianos, all of which are in good shape, kept tuned and used regularly. But in the last 20 years we have also had at least five pianos that were donated for which we had no use and had to be moved on. In some cases, we found families that wanted pianos for their homes. In other cases, we found ways to trade the pianos for services, including tuning and repair of other pianos. One was simply hauled to the dump and discarded.

I have a friend who has a warehouse filled with old pianos. Each has a small value, but only if a customer can be found and so far he hasn’t found the customers. Right now the market is saturated in our town. A neighboring school district has decided to sell a large number of classrooms pianos and replace them with digital keyboards. Their relatively nice pianos flooding onto the market means that a good piano can be purchased for a low price and those who are trying to get full value for their pianos can’t find customers.

Just last night I was talking with a church member who has a piano at a consignment shop. The piano is a beautiful Steinway upright. It is worth thousands of dollars, but only so if a customer can be found. If no customer is found the piano will accumulate moving and storage fees that could exceed its value.

If you love these beautiful instruments it is heartbreaking to see so many that have no home. But it is difficult to deny that the world is changing. We had a piano in our home when our children were teenagers, but no longer have one. Neither of us play the piano other than to pick out a tune now and then to hear a new to us piece of music. For that purpose, the church has plenty of pianos. We needed the space in our home and the piano was hauled away. The only one of my sisters or brothers who has a piano in their home is the sister who lives in the cabin with our mother’s piano. And my nephew is the only member of the next generation who has a piano. He has been in touch with me wondering what can be done with the piano as he no longer wants to have it. It is clear that our heirloom piano with a great story is in its last generation in our family. And when the piano is gone, one wonders if its story will be lost. My great grandmother was among the early families to settle in Fort Benton, Montana, the end of the steamboat line. When they first arrived in the town, she was allowed to play the town’s only piano, which was in a saloon. However, her activities as a part of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union got her banned from the saloon. The family arranged to have a piano shipped from St. Louis up the Missouri River on the steamboat. It was the second piano in town and the first to arrive by steamboat. There are no more steamboats that go to Fort Benton, Montana. There are no saloons in town that have pianos. And the piano that was passed down for five generations now is looking for a new home. It makes me wonder whether or not the stories will be lost along with the piano.

I don’t know if there is anything in our home that will be passed down for five generations, though we have some items that have come to us form previous generations. The lives of our children and grandchildren aren’t focused on collecting old items. They are, after all, only items. I may not succeed in passing items on to my grandchildren. But I’m committed to making sure that they know the stories.

Who knows? I many stick around to tell stories to great grandchildren one day. And if I don't, I've got thousands of essays that fit onto a tiny flash drive and don't weigh nearly as much as a piano.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!