Dear Piano Retailers, Technicians, Teachers, and all those who are actively trying to promote owning and playing a piano:
I am about to tell you something that might literally change how you think about your profession. It may cause you to change how you do business, how you advertise, and how you sell your services. The beautiful thing about this revelation is that it is a paradigm shift that is profoundly simple.
But, before I tell you it, let me first quote “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams.
“…one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost for ever.”
Well then. Let’s hope nothing bad happens before I finish these next few paragraphs.
When I was young, my father was a piano technician who tuned for the Calgary Philharmonic, and my mother owned a music store and was the executive secretary for the (then) Kiwanis Music festival. When they weren’t working, they enjoyed music of all sorts, sang in choirs, and had a lot of fun playing, and listening to music. Notice please, that I have emboldened the word fun. Even though both my parents (and later, most of their kids) made their living in a music-related field, for them, music was fun.
My mother would play the piano with oven mitts. My brothers would (and still do) burst forth with songs by Tom Leher, or Flanders and Swan. I personally played the piano for Victor Borge, and made the “Great Dane” laugh. Yes, we were a fun-loving family, but mostly, we were a music-loving family. Thinking about this the other day, I You-Tubed all the funny piano-related videos I could find, and suddenly, I realized what was inherently different between then and now.
Pianos used to be fun. Pianos used to be seen in movies and on television being played by people having fun: Chico Marx using Harpo’s orange to play, and executing crazy glissandi that ended with a pointed finger, firing off the last note like a gun.
Owning a piano in the sixties was as common as owning a computer is now. Think of this: In 1988, when I told my wife I was going to buy a computer, she asked “Why? What do we need it for?” Today, if you said, “I’m going to buy a piano”, you would hear, “Why? Do you play? Are your kids taking lessons?” If you answered, “Just for fun”, very few would understand. But, the fact is, Pianos are fun. Playing the piano is fun. Watching others playing the piano is fun. Not can be, not could be – is.
Yes, buying a piano is an investment, but we spend more, and waste more, on things that are far more expensive, and that have an extremely short life-span – cars, computers, vacations, etc. Yes, it takes practice to learn how to play, but no one ever regrets learning how to play. Everyone regrets having given it up.
We need to make pianos fun once more.
Enough with the stuffed-shirt $100-a-ticket concerts! Bring on the piano-playing jesters, the entertainers, the you-tubers, the modern-day Liberaces. Forget telling the kids to practice hard, tell them to have fun! Make your store a destination, your studio a playground, your concert venue the place to hear and be heard!
And this is how we do it…
Stop being so serious for Pete’s sake. Stop being so competitive with one another, stop bemoaning the downturn in sales or in students, and be pro-active. Call each other up, and talk about crazy ways to have crazy piano-related fun. Promote owning a piano, playing a piano, and listening to the piano as something other than a chore, or a commitment, or as work.
We “PLAY” the piano, not “work” the piano.
A few suggestions. Feel free to use them, share them, or add to them:
- Start a piano festival with an emphasis on “play”, with special prizes for originality, improvisation, and audience appreciation.
- Have an outdoor free concert in the town square featuring piano “entertainers”, rather than just “performers”.
- Put a piano outside your store on the street, point a camera on it, and a sign that says: “See yourself on our website!”
- Film an “On the street” video where you take a passer-by, and in fifteen minutes teach them how to play their favourite song as a duet.
- Create an “Event” with the other retailers, and hold a lottery for a “Fun” piano.
- Host a “You Tube Video Contest”. The best submissions win fame, and prizes such as free lessons, or free tunings.
- Change your advertising strategy from “classy” to “funny”.
- Cultivate a relationship with the media. Let them know each time something fun is happening, or about to happen.
- Use every possible means that you can to say the same thing, over and over: Piano = Pleasure.
Everybody can write a long list of why something can’t be done, but can they write the same list of why something shouldn’t be done? Keep in mind that for every barrier in the road, there’s someone with a Hummer who is aching to bash through it. Be the Hummer.
Above all, remember these three things:
- Life is short – Make it a fun life filled with music.
- Don’t work for a living, play.
- Get to your modern equivalent of a phone and tell everyone about this before the world is destroyed by the Vogons.