Pianos, without which no house is complete?

Image courtesy of Iwan Gabrovitch and Flickr; Creative Commons

Pianos and me

I’ve been thinking about pianos. I’d hate to be without one, though admittedly the same applies to guitars and saxophones. The difference, I think, is that the piano sits in the main living room, or one of them, available for anyone to sit and play. Trying out the piano is one of the first things I want to do in any house I visit. The different feel, the different music on the stand, or in the piano stool, the way it sounds. These are treasures to be enjoyed. All this, and I’m not up to much as a pianist. I’m a compulsive sight reader and improviser (actually it’s more messing around). I’m less good at practising.

A piano in every home

There was a time when every  house had a piano, every middle class house anyway. It used to be the instrument of choice for Jane Austen characters but as uprights became popular it became possible for more people to afford one and to find the space. It has been argued that the piano was the TV of Victorian England. And pianos stayed in those lounges, best parlours, front rooms, for generations. Piano lessons became widespread. Books appeared with little elves climbing the staves, handy acronyms  were coined for the lines and spaces – FACE, Every Good Boy Deserves Favours and so on.  All this started to dwindle as the post war generations started to acquire more furniture to fill their rooms, and abandoned the concept of the ‘best parlour’. Usurped first by radio and then by TV, many pianos stood neglected before being given away or even smashed up.

Staying power

Despite all this, the piano retains its special place in our culture. Professional musicians who play other instruments very often play the piano as well. School music lessons tend to use keyboards, which are really just copies of pianos with a few added gizmos. And despite the increasing use of keyboards in popular music, the piano itself retains its attractions. It’s a versatile instrument, at home in classical, pop, jazz, blues, country, or any other genre. Nothing sounds or feels quite like it.

So, this week I have a recommendation. Take a break from struggling governments and Brexit, from climate change and presidents and listen to some Chopin. Or Duke Ellington. Or try and play a Beethoven sonata, or a Gershwin tune with those lush harmonies. And enjoy. We’ll all be better for it.



Tony Earnshaw

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