Regrets, I have a few, but then again, too few to mention. We all have one or two things we wish we’d done differently, right? One of mine is that I never learned to play the piano.
I was always around a piano with my love of music, but I never was made to take the lessons. Now, I’d love nothing more than to just casually be able to walk over, take a seat and start tickling those ivories to the enjoyment and amazement of all who passed by.
In any event, our topic today is not why I never learned to play, but rather why so many children in this country are no longer even taking lessons and why some stores that sell pianos are going out of business.
Is that a sour note; does it strike a chord?
The piano was invented more than 300 years ago. It once was a standard piece of furniture in many homes. These days, its primary function might be to conveniently display framed photos.
So what’s happened? Conventional wisdom tells us young kids have too many other activities. There’s no time to practice the piano when soccer, gymnastics, swimming and dance already are on the calendar.
Other reasons? Today’s kids grew up on gadgets. There are 88 black and white keys on a piano, but no bells and whistles.
Electronic keyboards and synthesizers are popular, but that’s primarily artificially created music. Kids connect to that stimulation. Those digital soundboards can make a piano sound like a harpsichord or a trumpet.
And there’s probably one other component to all of this. Parents aren’t all that willing to require a child to take the lessons or commit to long practice sessions.
From Beethoven to Billy Joel, we’ve marveled at how those 88 keys can create moods and moments that carry us elsewhere for brief moments of time.
The great jazz artist Thelonious Monk once said, “The piano ain’t got no wrong notes.”
The folks over at Fox Music House have been selling pianos in Charleston for more than 75 years. Charlie Fox and his son, Joseph, now try to carry the tune and maintain the tone that was established by Otto and Sarah Fox when they started the business in 1928.
Joe, the fourth generation Fox in the store, admits that the past few years have been especially hard on the industry.
“People don’t buy pianos when they’re losing their houses.”
Joe doesn’t believe that people enjoy music any less, though. Various digital devices are on display in their North Charleston showroom. Those are much more popular and provide the instant gratification today’s consumer demands.
I think we all suffer as a society as the piano disappears into the distance. Even the job of a piano tuner is on the decline. The average age of that profession is 55 to 60. Not very many newcomers are attempting to find harmony among the octaves and the chords.
As for me, I’m left to meddle with the pedal for an occasional “Chopsticks” or “Heart and Soul.”
I’ll leave you with this quote from Maria Christina Mena, an author from the early 1900s:
“The piano keys are black and white but they sound like a million colors in your mind.”
If you know how to play the piano, count yourself lucky, along with the people who stop to listen.
Reach Warren Peper at email@example.com.