Hear that sad, sad silence? It’s the sound of pianos dying all around us. So what do we do when the ivories are out of use? We take sledgehammers to them to make them easier to discard in piles of ordinary trash. Or we burn them as firewood. Somewhere, surely, a guitar gently weeps.
Apparently our best piano days are well behind us.
As the New York Times chronicled, the lives of pianos are coming to a screeching halt, and for multiple reasons. There’s the obvious decline in piano use in homes, with the rise of “digital pianos” making their much larger and more expensive versions less enticing.
But there’s also an increased presence of quality pianos — made in China, of course — that can be purchased for under $3,000, making the cost of moving and renovating an old piano rather prohibitive. Factor in that the piano’s golden age was in the early 1900s, and at its peak in 1910, 365,000 pianos were sold. Compare that to a paltry 41,000 sold last year, and add in that most pianos struggle to last beyond 80 years, and you have a host of dying pianos with no reason for resuscitation.
With each piano weighing hundreds of pounds, which also ups the cost of fixing the intricate machinery of the beasts, even getting rid of them has proven a bit tricky.
So, as we dispose of our pianos (not the really fancy ones, mind you), we’ve taken to simply demolishing the relics, filling landfills with bits and pieces of our musical past. Some movers take sledgehammers to the wooden boxes to break them down, while others burn them for firewood after ripping out any of the parts that may still be desirable.
The fall of the piano has been a long time coming, really. The heyday of the ivory-keyed beauties lasted from 1900 to 1930, according to statistics provided to the Times by the National Piano Manufacturers Association. As the main source of musical entertainment — or most entertainment inside the home, for that matter — in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the piano was a staple. But then radios came along and became the first to make a dent in the piano’s stronghold. Keyboards and all things digital soon followed. And now, as you struggle to find a home for grandma’s old piano, it may end up the same place that many are now going: the dump.