When the piano was first invented in the early 1700s, it was so expensive that only a select few could afford to own one. That – plus competition from the more established harpsichord – limited the early piano’s growth. Interestingly enough, it was be Johann Christian Bach (an international celebrity in his day) who brought global attention to the instrument and made the piano famous. It became a social and economic status symbol – something the rising middle class eagerly sought out at the time. Then, as the middle class grew and refinements to piano production made the instrument more affordable, more and more families began to take piano lessons. Pianos appeared in schools, hotels and government buildings. They spread around the world and hundreds of manufacturers popped up to fill the rising demand. …but the piano has more competition than ever today and it seems fewer homes have pianos than before. Are they still popular? What happened to the piano?
During the latter part of the 19th Century and a good portion of the 20th Century, piano study was considered essential to proper childhood development – equal in importance to attending school. When students reached a certain musical proficiency, they were expected to perform for their families and friends, creating a new form of home entertainment. In fact, the piano became the primary source of home entertainment until the advent of the radio in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
As the radio became more affordable and, thus, more common in middle class homes, the piano took second place as a source of home entertainment. It was far easier to operate a radio than to learn an instrument. When the television arrived in the late 1940’s, the piano’s importance as a status symbol and source of home entertainment decreased even further. Middle class families still emphasized the importance of music education, but the piano never again enjoyed the prominence it held prior to the radio’s invention. The number of pianos sold annually diminished, and several piano manufacturers eventually went out of business.
As new forms of popular music began to take form, however, the piano saw a minor resurgence. Artists like Liberace brought the instrument into every television owner’s home on a regular basis and – as a result – he quickly because the highest paid entertainer in the world. Later pianists like Elton John, Little Richard, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, and Jerry Lee Lewis, further elevated the piano’s popularity and diversity with their various musical styles.
New products like the electric piano (the predecessor to today’s digital pianos) and player piano systems made enjoying piano music even more accessible to those with limited or no playing experience. Unfortunately, with them came increasing competition from computers, streaming services, mobile devices and the internet. One might have been tempted to think the piano was doomed to extinction.
Then Everything Changed!
Then – in March 2020 – everything changed. COVID-19 hit the world, and people all over the globe were stuck at home with time on their hands. We couldn’t travel. Many of us couldn’t work. We were desperate to find fun hobbies that could enrich our lives and help us pass the time. Interest in internet meetings, online events and even “screen time” in general quickly diminished and we began to hunger for something more fulfilling. Thousands, perhaps millions, of people chose to make music. Some folks came back to the piano after years away – using their COVID “down time” to refresh their skills. Some chose to take up piano lessons for the very first time. Piano sales skyrocketed and piano manufactures once again struggled to keep up with the increased demand.
Along the way, we rediscovered how therapeutic playing the piano was. We saw it relieve stress and bring harmony to our chaotic lives. It helped us heal from the global nightmare that was COVID. It even helped us find common ground in the chaos and dissatisfaction around us. COVID challenged us to find creative, stimulating, and invigorating things to do at home – not just looking at screens all day. It brought us back to the basics – to the way life was pre-Internet. It connected us to friends and family members (past and present) who loved playing the piano. …and it reminded us that life is too short to be stressed out all the time.
As a result, we’re seeing a resurgence of in-home concerts, candlelight events, and live piano performances all over the world. In fact, a college friend of mine, Andrea Clearfield, has been hosting Salon Concerts in her Philadelphia home regularly. They have become quite popular in recent years – especially for those who crave real, meaningful interactions with people.
So, are pianos still popular? Of course, they are! In fact, they are enjoying a popularity we haven’t seen in decades! They may never be as popular as they were in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, but the renaissance we’re seeing now proves that the piano is here to stay. How about you? Have you ever played the piano? Do you love piano music? Why not stop in and see how pianos have changed over the years. New pianos can teach you to play your favorite songs in minutes! …and piano ownership is still a symbol of culture and sophistication. You owe it to yourself to see what all the fuss is about. Explore a Riverton Piano Company store today. We’ll show you why the piano has such a bright future ahead!