- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Mary Challinor of Northwest knows where to find her husband, Henry Richardson, after a stressful day at the office. He will be seated at the family’s upright Steiff piano, pounding out his frustrations on its ebony and ivory keys.
   
   The dark mahogany piano sits in the couple’s dining room in front of an antique Japanese screen that is mounted on the wall. The instrument was a gift from Mr. Richardson’s parents for his 30th birthday.
   
   When the couple’s daughter, Hope, heard her father’s talent, she also wanted to learn how to make beautiful music.
   
   “It’s part of our family life,” Mrs. Challinor says. “My daughter kept asking my husband to give her lessons.”
   
   A piano can provide a centerpiece for a home, gathering a family for a shared activity or entertaining guests.
   
   Purchasing the right piano, and keeping it in good condition, requires special care, but it is worth the investment. In addition to its aural appeal, the instrument can contribute to a house’s decor.
   
   Even with advancements in technology that might allow for fancy gadgets that could overshadow pianos, many families still have them in their houses or apartments, says Nick Margaritas, owner of Piano Man in Catonsville, Md.
   
   “The purpose of having a piano in a home hasn’t changed much since the turn of the [20th] century,” Mr. Margaritas says. “Although there is a lot of competition now that wasn’t there then, the piano is an absolute essential part of the family, particularly in more cultured families.”
   
   Some people enjoy hosting musical events with pianos in their living rooms, especially during holidays. These performances can take place with either a solo pianist or a smaller ensemble. For such occasions, furniture needs to be moved easily out of the way of the musicians and guests, says Lisa Adams, owner of Adams Design Inc. in Northwest.
   
   “It allows for impromptu concerts and wonderful occasions,” she says. “It adds another layer of fun and companionship.”
   
   The homeowner’s seriousness about music would determine where the instrument is placed in the house. Serious musicians who are purchasing or building a new home might want to plan where to put their piano from the outset. For instance, it could be incorporated into a music room or a library.
   
   Most pianos are part of a living room, maybe with a separate alcove. Some individuals may want to contain the sound in one part of the house, especially if it is used on a daily basis.
   
   “One family I know doesn’t play the piano very much, but they hire a pianist to play at their cocktail parties,” Ms. Adams says. “In that case, it provides ambient music. The piano can be in a room separate from the main entertaining room.”
   
   Acoustics also play a large part in choosing the area of the home in which the piano should reside. The room should not have multiple surfaces that reverberate, such as large windows and stone floors.
   
   Lighting is another important factor to take into consideration. The person playing the piano needs adequate light to read sheet music. With a grand piano, some people like to highlight the focal points of the instrument, as might be done with artwork. A piano is frequently compared to a piece of sculpture, Ms. Adams says.
   
   “It’s a beautiful shape,” she says. “My preference is always for a very dark wood or black piano.”
   
   Although white pianos may add a unique touch, Ms. Adams says she doesn’t think they are the best choice for most settings. If someone really wants a white piano, she suggests featuring it in a summer home.
   
   “It’s like wearing white shoes in the winter,” she says. “It’s not appropriate.”
   
   When purchasing a piano, a larger dilemma may be deciding whether to buy a new or used instrument. Mr. Margaritas says buying a new piano is best whenever possible. New upright pianos are priced at about $3,000 and up, while new grand pianos are $6,000 and up.
   
   When a budget doesn’t allow for a new instrument, Mr. Margaritas suggests searching for a used piano made by an Asian manufacturer. He says Asian-made pianos usually are constructed better than American-made pianos and will last longer. He says Steinway & Sons, an American company, is the premier piano maker in the world, but otherwise, most of the best pianos are made in Asia.
   
   Another option when buying a piano is to consider whether to purchase an upright or grand. An upright piano usually is about 45 to 50 inches tall. Grand pianos range from 4 feet to 9 feet long. The most commonly purchased baby grand piano is 5 feet long and 5 feet wide.
   
   Deciding which piano to buy usually depends on the amount of room available to store the instrument.
   
   “As a general rule, the bigger [the piano] the better,” Mr. Margaritas says. “It’s heavier and holds tuning better.”
   
   Aside from an occasional dusting, part of taking care of a piano is making sure it is tuned about once a year, says Victor Haas, owner of Victor Haas Piano Tuning in Kensington. This includes adjusting the tension of the strings and possibly replacing strings or hammers. An old piano that hasn’t been tuned in a while might need to be tuned three times before it can maintain the proper frequency.
   
   Tuning will fluctuate if the piano is in a room with extreme temperatures. About 70 degrees Fahrenheit should be the average. Also, if a piano is never played, it will lose its tuning. Piano owners should make sure it is used regularly.
   
   “It helps if it’s played more often because it limbers up the strings,” Mr. Haas says. “And don’t move it too often. When you move it, you have to tune it again.”
   
   Moving a piano into a home can be tricky. The best option is to hire a professional mover who has moved more than a fair share of pianos. However, even the best movers have experienced sticky situations.
   
   “I’ve dropped a few,” says Robert Pulliam, owner of Pulliam Piano Moving Co. in Arlington. Mr. Pulliam has been moving pianos for about 20 years. “It’s very hard,” he says. “You can move furniture, but a piano is a whole different thing. You’re dealing with a lot of weight for one piece.”
   
   When taking an upright piano up stairs and around corners, Mr. Pulliam suggests turning it on its side. Otherwise, the instrument becomes too heavy and long to transport.
   
   Covering the piano in blankets for safety is a must when moving it, says Sam Gahanem, a piano mover with Washington Movers in Lorton. He charges about $250 to transport a grand piano and $175 for an upright piano.
   
   Before moving a piano, Mr. Gahanem opens the keyboard lid and covers the keys with a blanket. He closes the lid with the blanket folded on its outside. Then he ties a rope on the outside to make sure the lid doesn’t fly open.
   
   With a grand piano, the legs and pedals must be removed and tied to the larger structure. This is done by turning it on its left side. The body of the piano is usually placed on a dolly for transport because it’s too heavy to carry.
   
   “It only takes two people to move a piano, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, it will take four or five people, and it might get damaged,” Mr. Gahanem says. “If you know how to move a grand piano, you know how to move any piano.”

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