The Knabe baby grand did a cartwheel and landed on its back, legs poking into the air. A Lester upright thudded onto its side with a final groan of strings, a death-rattling chord. After 10 pianos were dumped, a small yellow loader with a claw in front scuttled in like a vicious beetle, crushing keyboards, soundboards and cases into a pile.
The site, a trash-transfer station in this town 20 miles north of Philadelphia, is just one place where pianos go to die. This kind of scene has become increasingly common.
The value of used pianos, especially uprights, has plummeted in recent years. So instead of selling them to a neighbor, donating them to a church or just passing them along to a relative, owners are far more likely to discard them, technicians, movers and dealers say. Piano movers are making regular runs to the dump, becoming adept at dismantling instruments, selling parts to artists, even burning them for firewood.
“We bust them up with a sledgehammer,” said Jeffrey Harrington, the owner of Harrington Moving & Storage in Maplewood, N.J.
It really does say something about our society that we're unable to find a use for these instruments. In the age of digital music, aspiring singers can play accompaniment tracks they've downloaded online and record themselves on vocals; fewer people need to know how to read the notes. In churches, they've moved to rock bands and recordings.
Saddest of all? The late-night singalong jams that were such an important part of my childhood are less and less common. We used to pride ourselves on remembering all the words to American Pie; now when we get together to make music, everyone pulls out a phone and Googles the lyrics.
I'd love to see someone step up to organize donations to low-income families, schools, churches and anyone else who wants one. It seems like we should be able to work that out. Right?!