The Importance Of Pianos

Pianos have a long history in our culture and as such have helped shaped not only the musical landscape, but the socio-political landscape as well. The importance of music, let alone the piano, has been implemented in the human psyche since primitive times. Over the years of human social development, music has played an integral role. Music is present in churches and dance halls alike, acting as an international language. Yet, calling it a necessity has been a controversial topic, to say the least. Articles and books have discussed both the upside and downside of music, whether it be folk music, jazz music, or classical music. The piano, and it’s preceding keyboard ancestors, have been the basic formation behind our musical constructions, and this set of twelve equal tones has been pushed to extremes throughout history.

antique piano 3

  • The keyboard’s arrangement was developed over time during the medieval and renaissance ages based off of christian plainchant, and then hymns and chorales. The piano helped bring order to the tones that human beings tended towards. On the other side of the planet, in China, Japan, Indonesia and the rest of the far east, different scalar arrangements were being utilized, but expressed using different instruments. Yet, to this day, the piano is able to express many of these eastern scales utilizing arrangements of our twelve tone system, showing the versatility and expressive range that a piano contains.
  • In the development of classical music, the piano has acted as the instrument of choice for composers. Since the instrument can express the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and dynamic qualities of music, it is almost a miniature orchestra. Although the timbre of instruments all vary, composers were able to orchestrate complex symphonies using the well-tempered system of a piano. Composers such as Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninov were able to add to what the capabilities of the piano were, placing the instrument far above many others as the most important of instruments.
  • In the western hemisphere, the piano was utilized in a way never before seen. Scott Joplin helped create new music with the help of blues formulae and romantic waltz piano playing. His music had a signature American touch to it, which was then taken further by Art Tatum. Stride piano died when Bud Powell began playing bebop lines along with Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk tried to find tones on the instrument that never before experienced.
  • Yet, even though the positive contributions of the piano are vast and varied, some controversy still surrounds it. Some think that player pianos take advantage of the instrument and take the “soul” out of it, diminishing the importance of the musician. Pianos also bring with them a certain amount of baggage. Pianos can be seen as a representation of wealth differentiation and exploitation of musicians by highfalutin society members. Music has always been labored over by the poor and enjoyed by the wealthy.
  • In China, the introduction of western music has introduced a new dynamic of class struggle. Western music has an internationalist pretension surrounding is, which, when introduced to a third world society, act as objects of superficial wealth, as opposed to the beautiful wealth of musical expression. Musical expression should be an equal opportunity for all people, but the high-value of pianos allows for some to enjoy the wonderment of the instruments while others don’t.

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Regardless of whatever controversy may surround peoples’ ideas of the piano, or music in general, there is no denying the beauty and wonder of the instrument. The music that a piano brings to society goes way beyond whatever class struggles may exist below it. I believe music to be a right, not a privilege, and that the piano be simply another means for expressing this inalienable right. 

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