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The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#262999 02/26/07 05:13 PM
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Our piano tuner recently came to do his thing on our mid-sized grand.

He is an older guy who has been an independent tuner for many years, and he does contract work for the largest local piano retailer.

He suggested that this establishment may be quietly going out of business. I myself recently visited their showroom -- they only have three grands on display in a showroom that held more like 15 of them some years ago. Our tuner stated that they are selling out their inventory and are NOT ordering any pianos shipped to replace what they sell. His "confidential" tip to me -- their days are numbered.

He told me that quite a few independent piano retailers have quietly gone out of business here in the Midwest. Increasingly, viable piano showrooms are limited to the three or four largest cities in our state.

There also seems to be an increasing popularity of very small grands in the 4'8" to 5'1" category. One wag called these "playable coffee tables." This suggests that people continue to appreciate the prestige and status of a grand, but it is becoming increasingly a "decorator."

The impact of improved and affordable digital pianos on all this is beyond my ability to assess.

I'm old enough to remember the years before television. Pianos were a source of entertainment and they could enliven social gatherings in homes. The tube took a while, but has pretty much torpedoed this sort of genteel culture.

Many of you know MUCH more about the big picture on piano culture in America than I do.

Do you think we are seeing a kind of "fading away" here?

Colleges and universities will always supply a market for mid-sized to large grands, so the retail market will never disappear. But I wonder if the acoustic piano is increasingly fading as a fixture of American middle-class lifestyle.

I will read any posts with great interest-- thanks.


the Glyptodont
Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263000 02/26/07 05:30 PM
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There also seems to be an increasing popularity of very small grands in the 4'8" to 5'1" category. One wag called these "playable coffee tables." This suggests that people continue to appreciate the prestige and status of a grand, but it is becoming increasingly a "decorator."
Very true. shocked

In fact, many businesses today cater exactly to this mentality trying to make the most while life is good and the show goes on.... eek

On the other hand, there is an emerging new, if somewhat smaller, but very serious group of new piano buyers out there as well.

The one that have discovered music as an integral part of their own and their family's life.

Norbert thumb


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Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263001 02/26/07 05:54 PM
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Glyptodont/Norbert:

The stats in my head are that in the 1920's 300K pianos sold in the US and last year 100K pianos sold in the US. I don't know how much the population has increased but it is clear that the piano has moved from being a staple in the living room to an option. I am assuming that the drop out rate has always been fairly high in terms of years of lesson taking, yet my question is are the group that buy today more likely to stick with it or not. I wonder if there has always been alot of fallout in the initial stages but not a lot of fallout of those who play for more than 5 years and beyond. Does the question make sense?

Another point is that there has been a seismic shift in purchasing patterns from vast majority upright to near equal split between uprights and grands. This could account for the increasing popularity of 4'8 to 5'1".

As families have more entertainment options to choose from piano playing has become a casualty. Guitars seem to be selling well though. Not sure what the answer is, maybe we just need to see "50-cent" on a few MTV videos playing the piano and all will be well again. eek

Can you add an acoustic piano to RAP music? More seriously look at the ballroom dance and ballet movies coming out targeted to our youth. Time for a moving piano story filled with underprivleged kids, romance, competition and a come from behind victory. Who are the Hollywood pianists that we can pull on their heartstrings-any ADD or depressed or delinquent kids saved by the piano. Thus I digress...

Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263002 02/26/07 06:02 PM
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Glyptodont,

I think there is hope for the future of the acoustic piano, if from nowhere else than this wonderful pianoworld website. It was reading piano-enthusiastic posts from here that pushed me to buy my CW 1520.

Oh how I wished I had purchased an acoustic piano when my children were younger. Both my daughters were/are musically talented. I started with the piano late in life and am really enjoying it now, but I missed out on an incredible family experience of having a piano in a home with children. However, Daddy knows better now, and if I have grandchildren, the grandkids WILL grow up with a piano in their home, even if I have to pony-up the cash for another Charles Walter or two.

We can't always change the "Big World", but we can change our "little worlds".

Bill

Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263003 02/26/07 06:11 PM
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You ever see those medicine commercials on tv? They begin by describing a symptom, and then they proclaim that their medication is THE cure. I'll bet there a lot of people going to the doctor insisting they need a prescription for THAT medication to cure their ills and asking for it by name.

Marketing certainly works. It's a shame a few of the piano manufacturers don't pick up on that style of advertising. Create a feeling of need in the minds of consumers for their product. Heck, it's been years since I've seen any ads on the tube for pianos, period.

Ken


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Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263004 02/26/07 10:37 PM
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In other threads in the past, the issue of organized sports for children has been raised as one possible factor for the decline in piano purchases. Parents want to enrich their children's lives by including extracurricular activities, but the activity of choice appears increasingly to be organized sports, which (as any parent knows) can easily consume nearly all a family's discretionary time. Couple that with the decline of music education in the schools, and you have a recipe for families just not bothering to make piano (or any instrument) lessons a priority.

Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263005 02/26/07 10:59 PM
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In my area, my piano tuner told me that the PT Guild was dying 10 years ago but had "picked up" (his words) new work and new members in the past few years. IDK, but it encouraged me to hear him say it.

Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263006 03/12/07 11:19 AM
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I address this subject in some small way in our press release...
http://www.prweb.com/releases/2007/3/prweb509227.htm

I do agree more should be done to incourage new players. I've approached the NAMM organization a couple of times, offering to work with them utilizing our reach (our traffic), no response.

When I was in the retail end of the business (many years ago), we used to offer piano classes (group lessons using electronic pianos and headphones), and free introductory lessons.
We also provided practice rooms (free).

Of course there were (and still are) organ clubs, where people get together and have fun playing and listening.

I like to think of our Piano Forums Parties as sort of a Piano Club.

I have read that while acoustic piano sales are down, electronic/digital piano sales are up.
And that's ok too, if that is what it takes to get someone interested in playing the piano, it works for me.

I think the biggest challenge getting younger people interested (besides tearing them away from their electronic toys) is somehow making it cool to play.
When I was a teenager everybody wanted to play in a band, and playing piano/keyboards was considered cool (not as cool as guitar, but cool enough).


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Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263007 03/12/07 11:53 AM
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Originally posted by fathertopianist:
Glyptodont/Norbert:

The stats in my head are that in the 1920's 300K pianos sold in the US and last year 100K pianos sold in the US.
I've had those general figures tossing around in my head since I read Fine (or something). Demographics and economic trends are a sort of hobby of mine. Clearly, there is something to be learned from these numbers.

I wonder... how accurate are the numbers in the first place, for one thing? Do we really know that 300,000 pianos a year sold in the 1920's?

I also wonder about the secondary market. I mean, in 1920 (or even 1950, to a lesser degree), simply getting a piano from Point A to Point B was a huge job. So once a piano was purchased, it was less likely to ever move (eg, be sold). If unused, it just sat there. But mobility is much greater today, and there are 50 "man with van" listings in any town of any size. Moving a piano is easy, and so I wonder if many of the previous "300,000" are now on the secondary market. ?

Still, it certainly does seem to me that the role of the piano in the lives of Americans has changed dramatically. When I was a kid in NC, pretty much every member of our extended family had a piano in their house. And a large percentage of my family members "played," at least at some rudimentary level. The pianos were always getting a workout. These were practical pianos, just small uprights or spinets or whatever. But no one cared, they were pianos, and they got played.

Everything is different today. The vast majority of families do *not* purchase pianos for their homes. The vast majority of people do not provide musical training for their children. With more parents working, and more time taken up with outside organized activities, school time taking longer, more "competitive" parents pushing their kids academically, and a host of other factors...music seems like a silly luxury that gets you nothing.

Plus, yes, television, but these days even moreso, the Internet. My 4 year old daughter logs on, finds her favorite websites, and plays online games (her favorite being something called Wa Wa Wubsie). That and movies movies movies -- download 'em, rent 'em at the grocery store, get them as gifts, etc. Even my 2 year old knows how to operate the DVD player and the tv (it's sad, really, I blame my wife smile ).

I truly believe all of this, and much more, is part of a general decline in the cultural lives on the majority of people. Not only the cultural lives, but also the intellectual and personal development. Sure, there are "offsetting" factors -- my children will be whiz kids on the computer, and no doubt, there will be increasing avenues for creativity there. But music is fundamental. It is part of what we are. And it is becoming increasingly a product to be consumed, and not an activity to be pursued.

I feel like Miniver Cheevy...but then, I always have. ... Maybe I should have a drink... frown

Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263008 03/12/07 11:55 AM
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FATHERTOPIANIST:

Try multiplying your stats by 3 and then you will be much closer to the actual number of pianos sold in the USA alone.


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Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263009 03/12/07 12:04 PM
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What concerns me are these playable coffee tables or "PSO's" as I call them. "Piano Shaped Objects."

From a moving perspective, a cheap baby grand made mostly of MDF is a NIGHTMARE to move and you can only put those legs on so many times before they start to wobble.

An MDF piano is VERY heavy, much heavier than the older solid wood pianos of yesterday.

Sadly, a lot of people fall for these pianos on price.

When I sold I was DAMN good at it. One way I bumped people up to better-quality pianos was to have a cheap PSO on the floor and then a better quality one.

I'd grab the rim of the cheap piano and shake it. It would squeak and make a horrible sound. Then I'd grab the better-quality piano and it would do NOTHING. Like it was bolted to the floor.

I spent the rest of the time talking about empowerment and fun and family time and goals and dreams.

I hated talking about backposts and pinblocks.

Somewhere in the process they'd sit down and buy the quiet piano.


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Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263010 03/12/07 01:37 PM
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I will always play, regardless of anyone else does or not. If you want a piano-shaped coffee table, be my guest, but don't complain to me when I sit down and play it and make it breathe. It's a dying art, for sure, especially in this petty culture with its need for instant gratification. People have no good values anymore.

Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263011 03/12/07 03:11 PM
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If owning and playing an acoustic is the criterion, then we're in trouble. If playing and arranging/composing is the criterion, then thanks to digitals we're in good shape.

Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263012 03/12/07 03:17 PM
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USAPianoTrucker posted
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a cheap baby grand made mostly of MDF is a NIGHTMARE to move and you can only put those legs on so many times before they start to wobble. Sadly, a lot of people fall for these pianos on price.
I don't disagree, but sometimes that's all people can afford. Those PSO's will let them get started.

On the other hand, there is no harm at all in learning if they are willing/able to make a greater commitment. And rim and case materials are a good place to make a comparison. Sustain/projection A/B's might also have worked, tho those lack the dramatic value of a good shake;-)

Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263013 03/12/07 03:49 PM
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Larry and lb both predicted a blood bath in the retail piano industry a couple of years ago.

The ROI is simply not there.


TNCR. Over 20 years. Over 2,000,000 posts. And a new site...

https://nodebb.the-new-coffee-room.club

Where pianists and others talk about everything. And nothing.
Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263014 03/12/07 08:05 PM
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..the way of the harpsichord perhaps???
Looking at the extreme long view here...
Instruments do come and go with musical tastes and styles. eventually they become merely oddities used to re-live old times. I wonder what place a piano will be - say by March 12,2307..


-cheers!!!
Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263015 03/12/07 09:20 PM
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Everyone still loves music. In 1920, if you wanted to hear a piece, or have a sing a long, someone had to sit down and play the piano. Now it's easy to download whatever you want instantly, or turn on the karaoke machine.

So there is participation, the instant ability to get music, and the pleasure of participation. And no practicing.

IMHO, supporting school music programs is the answer. In my school district, like others, funding is limited. The parents raise money to help fund the programs, scholarships, lessons for some kids who can't afford them, etc.


Shoshana

Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263016 03/12/07 09:32 PM
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But sports are far more important than the arts :rolleyes:

Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263017 03/12/07 10:08 PM
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Let's hear it for the aging baby-boomers whose lowly Yamaha P22 followed along on three corporate moves, but nevertheless sat relatively unused for several years while the kids were in sports, and even (thankfully) lots of school choirs. Such a person wakes up one day and realizes the guy who bought the old piano still lives, and will want to play an even nicer piano in the years between now and the nursing home.

I saw such a person again today in a reflection from my grand's music desk. I am not alone.


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Re: The Twilight of American Piano Culture -- ?
#263018 03/13/07 01:10 AM
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from Monica Kern
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In other threads in the past, the issue of organized sports for children has been raised as one possible factor for the decline in piano purchases. Parents want to enrich their children's lives by including extracurricular activities, but the activity of choice appears increasingly to be organized sports, which (as any parent knows) can easily consume nearly all a family's discretionary time. Couple that with the decline of music education in the schools, and you have a recipe for families just not bothering to make piano (or any instrument) lessons a priority.
I think all of this is true. But school bands for middle schoolers and high schoolers seem to be flourishing in Southern California where I live. In fact, a lot of kids somehow manage to be in school athletics and school bands simultaneuously. A study I read cited statistics on the academic achievement of students involved in band as being higher than the general student population.

I think one of the problems with traditional piano lessons steeped in the classical piano repertoire is that kids don't relate to the music, and the piano as an instrument doesn't give kids much opportunity to relate to each other. Bands teach kids to know their role. Like sports there is a realization that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, that you have to depend on team members and be a complementary part of something that can be pretty exciting.

I grew up with piano lessons. Interaction with other kids musically was limited to seeing them arrive as I was leaving after a lesson, seeing them leave as I was arriving, or being part of recitals. I'm afraid it's the same today. That's why so many professional and amateur pianists are prima donnas who do not integrate easily into ensemble work. Often kids who do play and play exceptionally well are quiet loners. That was certainly true in my case. (the loner part / not the exceptionally well part). I didn't really come out of my shell until an electric keyboard got me into a garage band. My own kids studied piano a short while. When they wanted to change to band instruments I encouraged them. Piano taught them the fundamentals. Bands and ensembles gave them the chance to have fun.

You meet so many ADULTS who say "I took lessons for two years as a kid. I wish NOW I hadn't quit." Maybe the solitary pursuit of musical fulfillment at the keyboard is a better fit for adults and not such a great one for most kids.


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