Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Steinway to go

It is not every day that I get to play a Louie XV style Steinway Heirloom Piano with a mahogany finish, originally manufactured in 1930. But if I had $98,000 to spend, it could be.

I had an enjoyable visit today with my fellow MUS 673 students to the Steinway & Sons headquarters on 57th Street in New York. We met with Ronald Losby, the company's president, to talk about all things Steinway. And it was fun for me to get to play some original music for him, and for my classmates and the professor (who is also the dean of the music school). People were complimentary, which was kind.

When I was in newspapers, I shared my colleagues' interest in (and frustration about) that industry's challenges, to some extent finding them to be unique. As I've gone through business school, I have come to see lots of common threads between newspapers' plight and that of other industries, like pianos, which were once a centerpiece to about 1 in 3 living rooms and a key skill of any refined person. That's no longer the case, and Steinway is dealing, like anyone, with how to navigate digital technology, changing customer needs and habits, and even macro cultural issues that threaten the piano industry.

For example, for pianos to be sold, people need to know how to play them, which requires lessons. With two parents working, who's going to take kids to the lessons? And do young members of a somewhat instant-gratification generation have the patience and dedication to learn an instrument? It takes years of sometimes painful endurance to get to the point where playing is a genuine pleasure. People these days -- adults and kids alike -- don't want to wait even a moment for much of anything. Maybe this is all the more reason why it's important for people to learn an instrument, to gain the valuable skills of precision, and to experience the fruits of practice, patience and commitment.

Anyway, it was a very interesting visit, and it was nice to be back in New York. And with this field trip over, my absurdly long spring break officially begins! I will be off for the next month. Let the good times begin.

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