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November 6, 2015

The Old Piano

I just saw a TV commercial for life insurance that really struck the wrong chord. It starts with middle-aged siblings discussing how disappointed they are that they have to sell Mom's piano in order to pay for her funeral.

Right there, the story loses all credibility. Mom's piano can't be sold. I learned this when my mother moved into assisted living and we had to sell most of her things. Pianos are almost impossible to sell. Nobody wants an old piano. In fact, you can't even donate them. Churches, senior centers, youth organizations, schools -- if they want a piano, they already have one. If they don't have one, it's because they don't want one.

What about families whose children might learn to play? Apparently young people are mostly interested in electronic keyboards, which are less expensive, have a smaller footprint, and don't need to be re-tuned every time you move them. Professional concert musicians who need pianos want something bigger, fancier, and newer than the ones found at most estate sales.

Once upon a time, it seemed that everybody had a piano. Before TV, the piano was the focal point of the parlor. My great-grandmother had an old upright that my cousin and I used for duets, even though it hadn't been tuned since the repeal of Prohibition. My mother had a console model that she bought so I could take lessons. In later years, she used it as a side table, piled high with books, junk mail, and things she was saving because they might be useful someday. All across America, pianos like hers were once standard components of middle class living rooms. Today, those pianos are being sent to landfills, buried in back yards, and pushed off cliffs.

The exception is high-quality, name brand, grand pianos in excellent condition. There are a few nonprofit organizations that will graciously accept them, if they are good-looking. And as long as you pay for shipping.

So, don't expect that old piano to finance your funeral. The best you can hope for is to save a little money by converting it into a coffin.

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