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The Xbox wins this round

It’s not only mail carriers being rendered obsolete by electronic communication.

A less-known casualty of our changing society is the piano. Once common in middle-class homes, the old upright is being pushed offstage by other forms of entertainment. There’s a glut of used pianos on the market.

We’re moving a few blocks from one house to another this spring, and we don’t want to take our piano with us. Nobody has played it since a guest at a dinner party a few months ago sat down and treated us to Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland.” When my dad, a serious pianist, visits Boise, he gives it a thunderous going-over and invariably comments afterward that it sounds far better than it looks. Other than that, it serves as a staging area for library books that need to be returned.

We bought it about six years ago when our children were taking music lessons. Since we live in a neighborhood of children who all look like they might be candidates for piano lessons, I thought I’d have no problem selling it, and I put it on Craigslist with the greatest optimism.

But it’s been a hard six years. My friend who is a piano teacher will confirm that as people lost their jobs, one of their first calls was to deliver the bad news to the music teacher that their children would be taking a hiatus from that particular luxury item.

Piano tuners will also say that the bottom more or less dropped out of their world around 2008. What family gets the piano tuned when mom and dad are worrying about how to pay the mortgage?

The whole idea of taking piano lessons, practicing every day and performing in recitals has also lost its appeal in favor of the delightful alternatives offered by iPod games, iMovie opportunities and wonders like the Xbox. So far, it doesn’t seem as though the new electronics have made a dent in youth sports, which are still going strong. But in my anecdotal experience, they’ve proven to be formidable competition for piano lessons. My 12-year-old son doesn’t want to practice piano, but he’ll spend hours shooting and editing home movies on my MacBook Air. And he gets the same creative value from the latter. I hope.

The old wooden piano also now must compete with the shiny electronic keyboard that plugs into your computer and can be purchased at Costco for around $100. This small-scale piano facsimile comes with lessons, drums, built-in songs and other sound effects.

All of this bodes ill for the traditional piano. Every day, a few new piano listings are posted in the Boise area. The instruments range widely in quality, type and price, but they all have one thing in common: They are hitting the market in a time of great change.

It’s discouraging to see that a national website called pianoadoption.com is packed with offers of free pianos, lovingly described (none in Idaho, though). For a different type of piano seeker there is the busy pianobuyer.com, which lists pianos for sale all over the world. In a piece of good news for the high-end piano market, it has a Grotrian-Steinweg concert grand listed in Sun Valley for a mere $54,990. It’s been on the market only since September.

I guess I won’t ask for that much for mine. I can see that piano-playing is just like any other form of communication that has been turned on its head over the last few decades. The strong will survive. The rest, I’m afraid, will have to face the music.

Anne Wallace Allen is managing editor of the Idaho Business Review

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the managing editor of the Idaho Business Review.

One comment

  1. Alas, I fear you are right. We have essentially the same piano sitting in our front room. But we’re going to hold on to it for those rare moments when neighborhood kids come over and want to just bang away on it (I have become a semi-skilled piano repairman in my spare time), or when I feel moved to tickle the ivory to the tune of the one song I know, Leonard Cohen’s Tacoma Trailer.

    The thing is that, despite all the iPad add-ons and other diversions, there is really nothing on earth like the sound of a piano being played live and in your living room. We’ll keep ours around for those three glorious minutes a month.

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