I have spent the last several months shopping for a grand piano for my studio. "Shopping" seems like the wrong word here. Shopping is what you do when you want a handbag or a maybe a gallon of milk. You don't shop for a piano any more than you shop for a life partner (mail-order brides aside), and a life partner is what I'm hoping my piano will be. Still, I learned to laugh at myself a lot, as I suppose one must when speed-dating, and I even started to get better at discerning what I was looking for.
Now here are some of the fantastic books that made their way into my life via my shopping expedition!
If you are thinking of buying a piano and you want it to be more than a lump of furniture then run to your library and check out The Piano Book by Larry Fine. With each page you read of this sane, practical, and accessible guide to piano buying, you will feel the empowerment tingling through your veins.
At 244 pages total, most people won't read the whole thing (I know a piano gallery owner who will buy lunch for anyone who reads it cover to cover - so if you do, let me know, and I will give you his name!). But even if you just read the short first chapter, "How the Piano Works", you will know more about the instrument than most people who play the thing. And if you go on to read the second chapter, also short, "Buying a Piano: An Orientation", then you will have imbibed your money's worth (or the caloric equivalent for running to the library) of piano wisdom. Along with chapters one and two I am thinking of making chapters six ("Piano Moving and Storage" - more exciting than it sounds!) and seven ("A Beginner's Guide to Piano Care") required reading for my students. It is bizarre and unfortunate that most of us who have played piano all our lives are so clueless about our incredible instruments. This book can set that right.
My brilliant parents, always one if not two steps ahead of me, pointed me to this wonderful book. I plan to stock at least a dozen copies at my new studio.
This is the coffee table version of The Piano Book - lighter on content but with exquisite illustrations and text that is delicious to dip in and out of. 88 Keys: The Making of a Steinway Piano, by Miles Chapin and Rodica Prato, follows, unsurprisingly, the history and making of Steinway pianos. It is on my Read Next reading list, so I've only read parts of it and can't give a true review here, but my sense is that this book is not so much helpful for your average person buying a piano but rather is for anyone who wants to appreciate the miraculous craftsmanship, engineering, and art that goes into the creation of a fine piano. Most immediately, it's a picture book for adults - Rodica Prato's astonishingly detailed and beautiful illustrations instantly transport me to a time before I could read when pictures spoke directly to my young heart and imagination. And that alone is worth so much.
I picked up this book from a gallery owner who makes it required reading for his staff.
A dear friend of a dear friend was selling her beloved Blüthner grand piano built around 1900, and so I drove out to the beautiful town of Spring Green, Wisconsin, to see it one morning.
I played it for half an hour or so - yes it had an antique twang in its midrange but the bass was resonant and the treble singing to my amateur ear. I say amateur because I am someone that hears the music more than the instrument, though the two are obviously connected. Chopin, even on the old clunky Kimball upright I found for free as a grad student, is still Chopin. I hear the genius of the musical architecture more than the tone of the instrument - for better or for worse - and I have yet to find a piano I don't enjoy playing.
Romanced by the idea of owning a century-old Blüthner, a piano brand that has been owned by the likes of Tchaikovsky and Brahms, I spoke with several piano technicians and eventually came to the realization that restoring or even maintaining this special instrument was beyond my current financial means. (One day, though, when I'm a RICH piano teacher...). Still, it was an honor to play such an old, fine instrument, and as I was leaving the owner's house she pushed a book into my hands, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, by Thad Carhart, taken from the stack of books and endless items she was in the process of packing. I have yet to read it but am told it follows a man in Paris as he enters the world of a mysterious piano shop where the history and art and craft of the piano, as well as that of the people who play the instrument, are revealed to him. I like to imagine myself lying on the couch in my new studio some rainy afternoon, reading this book, with the quiet hulk of my grand piano nearby.
Thank you, Mary, I can't wait to read it, and I will think of your Blüthner piano in Spring Green when I do!
Here is a preview of my new studio on Main St. in Westbrook - grand opening in June! Just imagine it with a pretty grand piano and you'll get the idea.
Note the architectural feature I have heard referred to as "windows" - something I have not had in my Madison studio experience. I am very excited about becoming a creature of daylight again!