Being a music teacher, I often get asked if I know anyone that would like a piano. This happens at least a half dozen times a year, and I am not even a pianist (although I do have a piano and I do play it). Usually the request is after the piano itself has been put up for sale and no one bit despite the price eventually being reduced to zero. 

It usually fills me with sadness. Today is no exception. A piano used to be as necessary as a refrigerator in a home. I feel that these objects that used to have and hold value and could be found in most middle class homes are no longer desirable in our hurried and mobile society. Gone the endless etudes and errors, gone the singalongs round the piano. My Uncle Charlie was great at making popular songs of the war era into hilariously lewd songs. When a piano is being used, vibrations fill the house and for those moments everything is safe. Everything is warm. Everything is worthwhile. Music connects us. Many of us get similar feelings from our guitars, but it is not quite the same as having a honking big piece of furniture that demands attention.

I understand. A piano takes up space and is expensive to maintain and/or move. Learning how to play requires a considerable commitment of time and effort.  The children have grown up and no one plays it anymore. It is easier to have an electronic keyboard, etc. which has a headphone Jack for not “disturbing” others.  Downsizing is important for an aging population. 

Artwork by Alex Kaysan

To me, the feeling evoked by an unwanted piano is like the compassion I feel for an old unwanted dog that has been given up for adoption. We have two old dogs already in our home (not to mention three little birds). We also have a piano (and keyboards) so I feel the need to help in the placement, but not at my house. 

What to do with it? I have helped some get into student’s homes. My sister had a great idea and got her piano placed at their local community centre and it will be used for choir rehearsals etc. Most churches often already have two or three pianos scattered around, but churches are closing or congregations merging. More pianos to get rid of. Schools (don’t get me started…) focus less on the arts and pianos can be found in the custodian’s lair gathering dust.

I love it when pianos are placed at random street corners in the city. I have seen and heard (and played) on several. Given our harsh climate though, these oases are merely temporary until the elements reclaim the usefulness of the piano rendering it fit for a landfill.

photo by Sharon Cheema

I wonder at how different the world would be if Oscar Peterson (for example) had not had a piano in his home, or Glenn Gould……….

As musical literacy and proficiency is becoming less important in our society, I can merely hope that the void left by this societal change will be filled in other creative and beautiful ways. 

One thought on “Orphans

  1. There is a piano teacher just upstairs in my apartment building and I can hear him giving lessons from the noise of the beginners to the older students whose playing has surpassed that of the teacher. The teacher loves to play and I am partial to the beauty and calmness of Debussy on a Sunday morning. I hear the piano as if it were in my apartment. I never tire of the stream of music and all the different genres he plays. Sounds like you had a piano growing up. I think we need to provide instruments at a young age to children to nurture a lifetime of a love of music. Who knows who will be the next Glenn Gould. Imagine this world if his parents had not had a piano in their home. Can’t imagine a life without music. A most excellent essay.

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