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Terrific And Terrifying Pianos

Terrific And Terrifying Pianos

What’s the best piano you’ve ever played on? What’s the worst? Can the quality of pianos that are used for composing and performing seriously affect your musical output? Here are some thoughts.

Two of the most remarkable pianos ever built are the nine foot Steinway and the nine-and-a-half foot Bosendorfer. The Bosendorfer is more of a conversation piece because of its additional low notes, used for extra resonance when playing the sustain pedal. Both brands are of the highest quality, and produce a sound and key action second to none.

There are so many quality brands these days that deserve honorable mention. Heintzman pianos are generally gems and Yamaha are producing wonderful instruments. I could go on, but I’d rather talk about lousy pianos. It’s more fun.

Terrifying pianos are just another name for poorly maintained pianos. Although these types of pianos can be found virtually anywhere, occasionally they are found in schools and in retirement homes. What a shame!

A bad piano in a school supplies students with a lesser music education. Musical demonstrations by an instructor are out of tune and private piano tutoring is a disastrous effort on such instruments.

Retirement homes with bad pianos are truly a tragic circumstance. Just because residents in a home are retired, doesn’t mean that the poor piano has to retire from a life of tuning and maintenance. Yours truly encountered one such piano in a retirement home in Baltimore, Maryland. The year was 1988, and it was the year that I came closest to breaking a finger. While playing a Chopin study (opus. 10 no. 8), my right hand third finger actually got stuck in between two black notes!

Ouch! One of the black keys was too close to the adjacent black key, either through poor construction or through some sort or warping process over time (probably the latter). The otherwise happy Chopin Etude must have had a painful emotional feel to it from about the midway point of the composition until its conclusion. Thankfully, this was the last piece on the program. Suffice to say, there were no encores.

Here’s another gem of a piano. When first arriving at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, I was invited to a house of a friend. After dinner, I was asked by our charming host to perform on their piano for the three couples that were also invited to dinner. On this occasion, I decided to play the Chopin Barcarolle. To my great surprise, the piano was out of tune by more than a semitone. To a composer with perfect pitch, this is a death sentence.

Before going on, no implication was intended in labeling Baltimore and the surrounding areas with an infestation of bad pianos. Two bad pianos in one state is nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence.

From the above past experiences, it can be concluded that badly maintained pianos can most definitely have a negative impact on performers. However, can the quality of a piano actually improve ones output? After all, it can be argued that music comes from within and that true emotion will not be subdued, regardless of the instrument that one is composing or performing on.

In the practical world, good equipment is always an asset. If a piano delivers a quality, singing tone, it becomes addictive to play. That, alone, is an extremely positive consideration. Any composer or performer that has incentive to remain at their instrument for greater lengths of time is bound to produce positive results.

Another point to consider is that a singing tone makes ones soul sing. Any performer or composer that is brought to a state of singing is in a very positive creative place.

As a final thought, a well maintained piano makes for a happy performer, composer and piano. The better the instrument is, the better the chance of a successful emergence of profoundly moving performances and compositions from performers and composers respectively.