Monday, July 30, 2012

This Article Made Me Physically Sick- Pianos Being Dumped And Destroyed

This article got a visceral response from me. Apparently, perfectly good pianos, some of them antiques by famous makers, are being dumped and destroyed en masse:

The Knabe baby grand did a cartwheel and landed on its back, legs poking into the air. A Lester upright thudded onto its side with a final groan of strings, a death-rattling chord. After 10 pianos were dumped, a small yellow loader with a claw in front scuttled in like a vicious beetle, crushing keyboards, soundboards and cases into a pile.

The site, a trash-transfer station in this town 20 miles north of Philadelphia, is just one place where pianos go to die. This kind of scene has become increasingly common.

The value of used pianos, especially uprights, has plummeted in recent years. So instead of selling them to a neighbor, donating them to a church or just passing them along to a relative, owners are far more likely to discard them, technicians, movers and dealers say. Piano movers are making regular runs to the dump, becoming adept at dismantling instruments, selling parts to artists, even burning them for firewood.

“We bust them up with a sledgehammer,” said Jeffrey Harrington, the owner of Harrington Moving & Storage in Maplewood, N.J.

The story? People don't want to pay the costs of moving them, keeping them tuned and repairing them, and competition from new digital pianos at much lower prices is fierce.

So these fine instruments simply end up being destroyed, after a lifetim eof making beautiful music:

O’Mara Meehan Piano Movers said it takes 5 to 10 pianos a month to the debris transfer site here. The company was founded in 1874 by the great-grandfather of the brothers Bryan and Charles T. O’Mara Jr.

Bryan O’Mara and an employee, James A. Fox, drove their truck into a hangarlike structure one day last week. Inside the truck were six uprights and four grands. Several came from the Philadelphia school system and one from a retirement home. “This was Mrs. Dombrowski’s from New Hope,” Mr. O’Mara said, patting the Knabe.

Mr. O’Mara and Mr. Fox pushed them off the back of the truck one by one. The top of an upright popped off when it landed. Mr. Fox tossed amputated piano legs and a pedal mechanism. Sprayers from above sent out a swirl of dust-settling mist, adding to the surreal atmosphere.

Mr. O’Mara had charged the former owners about $150 per piano. The trash site charged him $233.24 for dumping them all. A recycling company would pick up the debris and separate the wood from the metal.

Beethoven Pianos, a restorer, renter, mover and dealer in New York, has a 34,000-square-foot warehouse at the base of the Third Avenue Bridge in the Bronx, with scores of pianos awaiting disposal, said the owner, Carl Demler.

“In wintertime we burn them,” he said, pointing to a round metal stove. “This one has eaten many pianos.”

Many of these instruments were made back when craftsmanship actually mattered. They were made of real wood, often in quality joined or pegged cabinets and designed to be more than just a musical instrument, but a sign of culture and beauty in the home.

Any society that treats these items in such a fashion, as disposable items, is incurring a kind of cultural sickness.

Not much more I can say about this.


Anonymous said...

You're obviously not a pianist. These instruments aren't furniture, they're instruments. Like cars and computers and people, they get old and need to be sent packing at the end of the day. A 40-year old piano is just not of use to a serious pianist. We can't play on old instruments because even the best ones wear down. I worry more for our culture when a non-musician reads a story in the Times and suddenly thinks he's an expert on something he knows nothing about. Thank god this wasn't a story about junkyards - you'd be pining for the Pinto.

Rob said...

For your information, I was a professional musician for about a dozen years, and while it's not my main instrument, one of the ones I play is piano.

You, on the other hand, obviously know jack about musical instruments as evidenced by 'We can't play on old instruments because even the best ones wear down.'

I'm sure you never heard of a Stradivarius or an Amati, but I guarantee you professional concert pros have. And there are plenty of 40 year old Steinways in proud use, along with a lot of other vintage instruments.Because the tone and build quality of them is superior to what's being cranked out now.

You know about as much about this as you do about most things.

Y'know, based on the tone of this comment, you're the same person who's been leaving the same stupidity on the board all day.

As a matter of fact, I have a pretty good idea that you normally use a certain Google ID I'm familiar with,based on the general style used, and are now using 'anonymous' just as a mask.

It's also obvious that the experiment of treating you with civility was obviously a mistake on my part.

But I can fix that quite easily.

Lauren said...

Sad this is happening. Sign of the times I guess. We were brought up to always ask friends and neighbors if they wanted such things before making the decision to just toss them out. More times than not someone takes the item and I always tell them to pass it on when they are finished with it.

louielouie said...

maybe he should change his nic to "pinto".

Anonymous said...

What an ass this guy is.

My collection includes a number of mandolins, acoustic guitars and dobros that are a lot older than forty years, and still playing wonderfully.

I have one National pre-war dobro that dates back to before WWII and still plays beautifully.

Moxie D. Hoxie said...

I can't bring myself to read the article. It's so sad... I am not a musician, but I am someone who dabbles in carpentry, and I mourn the loss of these as beautiful pieces of furniture. (And as instruments--while I am not a musician, I also appreciate the pianos as musical instruments.) Electronic keyboards--even the ones with the nifty action on the keys that emulate real pianos--don't quite have the mellifluous tones of a real piano. It's like the difference between an acoustic guitar and a solid body electric guitar. Different instruments, that have different tones.

Bourbon said...

Unfortunately, most old pianos are worthless. I had one that my Great Grandfather bought in 1910. I sold it to a friend for a pittance when moved coast to coast. My alma matter didn't want it for free. It cost about $500 to move. I was lucky to get anything for it and have someone want to play it.

Atlanta Junk Cars said...

I weighed my eyes down as I read this dreadful article. What the heck has this world come to, when one of the most beautiful things in this world is taken and trashed? And burned? How could you...

-Evergreen Junk Cars

Anonymous said...

If you mourn the loss of these instruments, then take one or two into your home. And Rob, just as every violin is not a Stradivarius or Amati, not every piano is worth preservation.

Rob said...

You don't understand,Anonymous. When I was a kid and just getting into music anything that made music was wonderful...especially since there wasn't the money at home for a piano of any quality.

It's not about the dollars and cents its worth.It's soul food.

You have no idea the feeling you get inside from deciding 'oh, I feel like a little music' putting your own two hands on an instrument and making it yourself.

Unless an instrument is damaged beyond repair (which is rare, but happens) someone wants it and will cherish it.

BTW, I echo the comments of anonymous 12:39 above...a lot of the vintage instruments, even the cheaper ones were made to a higher standard of quality, with better materials. And many of them sound better than their contemporaries. That's why they're so expensive today, even in less than pristine shape.