Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Piano in Every Living Room

Our old piano tuner knew the history of many American piano manufacturers: which ones made really good instruments, where they were located, when they went out of business. Sadly, he never told me of a new American piano company being founded. He knew the American piano industry was dying. Because of this, although I always looked forward to his visits, I would come away from them feeling a little sad. It was like the conversations I used to listen to as a child between my elderly relations. They always ended with a discussion of who had died that week.

When I saw an essay by Jeffrey Tucker on the piano industry, I eagerly read it. He explained how Americans used to value pianos:

It was widely believed that spending money on a piano wasn't really spending. It was an investment. The money you paid would be embedded right there in this beautiful and useful item. You can always sell it for more than you paid for it, and this was generally true. So people would make great sacrifices for these instruments.

Americans did not buy pianos just because they were a good investment. Mr. Tucker says:

They were used in classrooms everywhere in times when music education was considered to be the foundation of a good education. They were the concert instruments in homes before recorded music and iPods. They were essential for all entertainment. American buyers couldn't get enough, and private enterprise responded.

This is a really good point that deserves to be repeated: "Music education was considered the foundation of a good education." It is also important to note that while iPods may have replaced the home piano in most American homes, the two are in no way equal. Americans have definitely regressed in the home music department.

I was disappointed to find that Mr. Tucker's point in writing the piece was to prove that the government should not bail out the auto industry:

In the same way, many people will bemoan the loss of the US car industry and wax eloquent on the glory days of the 1957 Chevy or what have you. But we need to deal with the reality that this is in the past. Economics demands forward motion, a conforming to the facts on the ground and a relentless and realistic assessment of the relationship between cost and price, supply and demand. We must learn to love these forces in society because they are the only things that keep rationality alive in the way we use resources. Without them, there would be nothing but waste and chaos, and eventual starvation and death. We simply cannot live outside economic reality.

Of course he is right. I just wish that he had discussed the spiritual reality and how it is the spiritual reality that determines the economic reality.

If the goal is heaven, then are you more likely to get there in a Chevy or by gathering around the family piano and singing the old songs and hymns? Seriously, what would it say about our country if we had a booming demand for American pianos but imported all our cars?

Mr. Tucker's essay is filled with the kind of information that I used to discuss with our piano tuner. It's good. I hope you will read it. Then, ora et labora to change the spiritual reality to one of a Christian culture. And get a piano for heaven's sake!

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