CHILDREN today have to put up with a lot of things kids...

Salmagundi

September 16, 1993

CHILDREN today have to put up with a lot of things kids didn't used to face, but there's at least one compensation: Fewer and fewer parents are forcing their offspring to spend hours at the keyboard practicing the piano.

The decline in piano playing is either a merciful relief from one of youth's prinicipal drudgeries or a descent into barbarism. How you see it depends mostly on how you remember the piano lessons you yourself took as a child. But one thing is certain: with fewer kids trying to find Middle C, the piano business has been in the doldrums for years, with little prospect of a recovery.

The Associated Press reports that piano sales, which topped 1 million a year at the turn of the century, are down to fewer than 100,000 a year today. Since 1978 alone, piano sales have fallen by nearly two thirds.

"Slumping sales have forced hundreds of piano dealers to fold or sell out in the past few years," the AP reports. "In May, G. Leuenberger, the venerable San Francisco dealer, sold out to Sherman Clay, the nation's largest piano retailer, which has 22 stores in six states.

"The decline also has hurt many manufacturers. Japanese and Korean piano makers have survived by bringing automation and efficient product practices to the industry, much like they did with automobiles and electronics. But more traditional piano makers are dying out.

"Earlier this month, Berlin's Bechstein Piano Factory -- which for 140 years produced an instrument that Franz Liszt claimed was "superior to all other pianos" -- filed for bankruptcy. It was saved -- only after the city of Berlin and local banks bought some of its land in Berlin, giving it the capital to pay off most of its indebtedness.

"The number of piano makers in Germany has fallen from about 700 to about 10 in the past 40 years.

"Why the discord?

" 'Social values have simply changed with the breakdown of the family,' " said Paul Majeski, of Music Trades Magazine, an Englewood, N.J.-based trade publication.

" 'Fifteen years ago, for Susie and Johnnie to be acceptable, they had to play the piano. But, today, mom is not at home, and there is no longer the social mandate that kids play the piano.' "

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