It’s not quite the day the music died, but it is the week that Harrods killed off its piano department after 118 years. And while the Knightsbridge emporium wouldn’t be the first port of call for every would-be pianist in the market for a new instrument (“would madam care for an elephant with that Bechstein?”), the fact that it is closing its piano store’s doors is indicative of a wider trend.
We’ve turned our backs on the piano. They’re costly, cumbersome and can’t compete on either front with electronic keyboards, so it’s no wonder that the number of Joannas Brits buy has gone from 14,000 in the 1960s to barely 4,000 today.
As for making our own music, we might give Garage Band a bash on an iPad, or get even get out a guitar for the occasional social strum, but a sing song round the piano? I don’t know about your neighbours, but mine would go nuts. Nothing new there, though: when sales of pianos were booming in Victorian England, one Henry Lunn, editor of the Musical Times and a professor of harmony advised, in the strongest possible terms, that musicians should live in detached villas. Or create music ghettos where they could tinkle the ivories without getting a first in the face.
The only faint note of cheer I’ve heard when it comes to pianos in recent months has been at my local pub, very near what used to be London’s piano-making hub of Camden Town (there were 100 or more factories making them there once). On Sunday nights there’s a singalong around the upright in the corner, once a sight, and sound, that would have been available to almost every drinker. I can’t play one, I can’t afford one, and I haven’t got room for one, but a part-time piano is still a pleasure.