We can learn a fair bit about social history through the use of musical instruments. Standing pianos were privy to upper and middle-classes in the early 1800s, they were a sign of wealth, status; they often lived in the best room of the house, an ideal place to impress neighbours as well as being a source of entertainment. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, however, thanks to the mass production of these instruments and the fact that they could be paid in instalments, pianos also became part of the backdrop in the homes of working class families.
Because of the high demand, these pianos were often not built to last, much like the clothes and furniture throwaway culture in which we live nowadays. And because the life of a piano expands 80 to 90 years, we now find ourselves with what seems like a surplus of out-of-tune pianos. Adam Cox, from Yorkshire Pianos, told us that “there has been a decrease in the amount of restoration taking place in this country; this is due to the availability of low cost, brand-new pianos from the Far East”.
Image sourced from Pinterest
Cox pointed out that we should not mix up the term ‘piano restoration’ with giving it a light dusting, as “piano restoration, if done properly, is very expensive; often costing several times the price of a new piano. The popular misconception is that pianos last forever. It is true they have a long lifespan, but over time they are no longer useful as musical instruments unless major restoration is undertaken”. He does concede, however, that pianos of an outstanding quality such as a Steinway are worth the cost of the restoration.
Son, can you play me a memory
Most owners of these pianos are either downsizing or have sadly passed away, rendering an object that has provided endless entertainment as obsolete. Getting rid of a piano that has been in the family for generations can be quite an emotional roller-coaster. One route you can look into, however, is restoration. Fifty years ago, 14,000 acoustic pianos were sold every year, compared to the barely 4,000 sold currently.
Musical instruments, especially pianos, are items that go through restoration purely because of sentimental value. Music can bring a family together; 3, 4 generations can indulge in Christmas songs, birthday parties, or cheery Sunday afternoons. An old piano can teach patience, improvisation, acceptance and the knowledge that you can find beauty in imperfection.
The cost of restoring a standing piano can reach the £7,000 mark, a quantity that you will be unlikely to win back, as there will come a point when a piano will not stay in tune and will deteriorate. If you have seen a piano being destroyed, you will agree that onlookers appear sad, respectful, pained. It is reminiscent to that feeling you get when your teacher finally retires after years of service, to when granddad can no longer live on his own, to when your parents make your childhood bedroom into a guest room. Music loses another team player who stood tall and proud in the home. One might think, perhaps, that it deserves one last chance to prove that a melody can bring us together.
You can find old and new pianos on the Preloved website.