BIT BY BIT, the midden in the dining room subsided. Finally, nothing was left but the piano and Doug’s desk. There still wasn’t room for the dining room table, but there was room enough for me to paint the woodwork and the walls. I even ordered wallpaper to hang beneath the freshly painted chair rail. The paper I wanted was on back order. From Canada. It might, the Sherwin-Williams guy told me apologetically, take as long as six weeks to arrive. I told him I had time.
Eventually—and I was good; I didn’t even prod him—Doug put an ad in the Penny Pincher, that throwaway newspaper you find at the grocery store: FREE PIANO! A Knabe baby grand was yours, it promised, if you came and took it away. A week or so later, when I got home from work, he told me he’d gotten several calls about the piano, and the woman who’d called first was coming to see it that night.
The woman—let’s call her Gemma—was excited about the piano. She stood in the dining room doorway with both hands pressed to her heart and said, “Oh, my!” She approached the piano gingerly, running her hand over the case. “It’s beautiful!” she said.
“Do you play?” Doug asked.
“No. I just like wood.”
It turned out Gemma and her son had recently moved into a new second-floor apartment. Because of this, she didn’t have any money to pay for a piano mover. But she was going to scrape up the money, she said. “This is Gemma’s piano now,” she told us fiercely, several times, before she hugged us goodbye.
“She’s never going to get the money to move it,” I said after the door closed behind her.
“We’ll give her a week,” Doug said. “A week, and then I’ll call the next person on the list.”
After a week, he hadn’t heard anything from Gemma, so he called her. She had some promising leads, she told him. That was Gemma’s piano now. Another week, she begged. Doug, of course, said yes. “Could you at least call the next name on the list?” I asked.
“I have a feeling she’s going to get the money.”
“She’s never going to get the money.”
“I think she will,” Doug said.
Another week went by. The piano was still sitting there, big and black and useless. Doug called Gemma again. She was waiting for her leads to pan out.
“I’ll call the next name,” he told me, not quite meeting my gaze.
That began a slow parade of potential piano owners. They’d trickle in on Saturday mornings or evenings after work, walk into the dining room, plunk a few keys, and say they never realized a baby grand piano was that big. They’d talk about friends with trucks, or a son out in Phoenixville who played, or kids who wanted to start taking lessons. They all had schemes; they all had plans. One guy went so far as to set a date and time to come and pick the piano up. The date and time came, and we waited. No-show.
“Who knew it would be this hard,” Doug said, “to give a piano away?”
Brian Goodwin knew. I came upon Brian after I googled “how can I get rid of my piano.” He’s the founder of Piano Movers Inc., a New England piano-moving firm, and also of pianoadoption.com, a website he started in 2007. I tried to set up a time to talk with Brian, but he was so busy moving pianos that we corresponded via email instead. When he started Piano Movers Inc. in 1999, he says, it was easy to sell an old piano, or donate it to a school, church or nursing home. But over time, it got harder. Piano stores closed; rebuild shops did, too. It was difficult to justify the cost of fixing up an old piano. Meantime, electronic keyboards were getting better—and cheaper—every year.
He set up pianoadoption.com to facilitate matches between piano-orphan owners and those looking for used pianos. It’s simply a listing service, by geographic area. The site doesn’t make a profit; Brian just wants to help people who’d like to have a piano find one—and, more importantly, help those who have pianos they want to get rid of find homes for them. The “adoption” part of the name, he says, was purposeful: “People are very sentimental about their pianos. They tend to hold onto them for many years. We hear all the time, ‘My grandmother learned to play on this piano.’ People always seem to have a story about their piano—whose it was, how it was moved out of a window once in New York City, the time they tried to move it themselves.” Brian’s website says, “Piano Adoption is dedicated to finding a new home for all serviceable pianos before they end up in the local landfill.”
The thing about pianos is, you can’t just put them out in the trash. You have to hire someone like Piano Movers to cart them away. “I’ll never forget one time years ago,” Brian says, “when I was pushing six or seven junk pianos off the back of my truck at the local landfill, and a woman stood defiantly behind the truck to protest and let me know what a terrible person I was.” It wasn’t the only time he’s been vilified for junking pianos.
A piano is hard to get rid of in more ways than one. Sometimes when his crew goes to pick up a piano, Brian tells me, they hear the owner playing it one last time as they come up the walkway. He’s had to comfort women who sobbed as he hauled their pianos off.
Those who own pianos, Brian says, know what it costs to move them—up to $700. People like Gemma don’t.