The Myth of Artist Endorsements

It is common for piano manufacturers to tout a list of artists with whom they enjoy some sort of connection. Sometimes that connection is rather tenuous since that artist may have affiliations with more than one company and, frequently, they have been dead for a number of years.

However, artist endorsements form a sort of seal of approval for wary piano purchasers who don’t necessarily trust their own ears. Often buying a piano with artist endorsements is an easy way to demonstrate ones own cultural sophistication, even when one  knows and cares little about the piano. But, are lists of artist endorsements truly a gauge of the quality of a piano and its appropriateness for you?

To use an clever example by someone in the business, think about the Lincoln Town Car. If you call for a car service in New York City, most likely you will be picked up in a Lincoln Town Car. Since many professional drivers in NYC use the Lincoln Town Car, does that mean that it is the best car for everybody?

Artist endorsements are rarely free. The artist is looking for something as is the manufacturer, otherwise why do it? The maker is looking for big names who allow the maker to freely use their identity in their advertising. The artist is looking for access to pianos, for home, concerts and recordings. The artist usually hopes to get this for free, but that is rarely the case.

What follows is kind of long and twisted, but it comes from deep personal experience. If you really want to understand the world of concert pianos, at least in the US, you may want to struggle through.


Why Should You?

There are many things on which to spend money. Good old Mazlow spelled them out for us. A piano is an investment in oneself, in ones striving for culture, experience and to some gods grace. Grace can be, of course, in anything. However an expensive, craft build piano is a particularly unique example.

If you play, a piano is a means of expression, a means of communication. It has been said that a piano is western civilization’s most perfect tool for the communication of emotion. That can be external communication, directed to an audience, or internal, directed only to oneself. It can be a tool of profound exploration or simple time passing, but so can any piano, right?

Yes, of course, but also, no, obviously not. A craft built piano has 2 important qualities; musical range and a story. The range comes from the combination of carefully selected and treated materials and skilled craftsmanship. These elements DO make a difference and even the most casual piano player can tell the difference.

The Myth of Power

Often, when speaking to someone about pianos and piano tone, the topic of power comes up. Frequently whether or not a piano has sufficient “power” becomes a de facto determination of whether a piano is acceptable or not. In these situations, the real question is: acceptable for what?

If a piano is going to be used for a concert with an orchestra, or as a recital piano in a hall with poor acoustics or over 1000 seats, power is important. The simple reality is that the piano must be heard whether one is battling a huge space, an insensitive conductor and orchestra, or uncooperative acoustics.

Many young pianists, striving to make a name for themselves and influenced by some iconic references including Horowitz and Russian school proponents, find themselves striving for power at the expense of color, dynamics and range. The phrase I heard at international piano competitions is that the contestant wants to “pin the ears of the jury to the back wall” as if the jury is there to simply identify  the loudest pianist, or the one that scares them the most. This may be the nature of a circus, action movie or fireworks display, but it is not the nature of music. […]

Maybe the Times are a-changing…

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