With the answers to these questions, develop a wish list of target instruments for every space that needs a piano, so that you're prepared for those calls from would-be donors.
Establishing a Target Instrument
The music director and committee members will need to make sure that the pianos being considered are actually of professional quality and size. Entry-level and many mid-range consumer-grade pianos are designed to appeal to the home market, but won't meet the needs of institutions. Small (under 5' 6") grands, regardless of quality, are unsuitable for use in sanctuaries, concert halls, and auditoriums. The most common misconception about small grands is that if you have sound amplification, then size doesn't matter. But these pianos are usually designed for home use and do not hold up well in institutional venues. Their strings will start to break, they can't be tuned and serviced to exacting professional standards, and their case parts and hardware won't stand up to heavy use or frequent moving.
Pianos designed for professional institutional use are more expensive because their sound quality is closely tied to the acoustically favorable woods of which they're made, and to the sophistication of their design and construction. Prices rise with each step up in size and/or quality, as manufacturers include more expensive materials, better design, and more attention to detail. This results in the performance quality and durability needed in institutional settings.
If you consult piano technicians and/or teachers about what sort of piano is appropriate, make sure that they are specific about which models they recommend. Many manufacturers make a large number of models; some are home pianos and others are professional, and the price differences can be huge. And if you're buying a new piano, be sure that the dealer's salespeople know what demands will be placed on the instrument.
Large Sanctuary or Auditorium Pianos
If the piano is to be used as a solo instrument or to accompany vocalists in a large space, I recommend nothing smaller than a 6' grand of Intermediate or Performance Grade. (For definitions of these terms, see “A Map of the Market for New Pianos,” elsewhere in Piano Buyer.) If you also expect it to serve for professional piano recitals, recording, or chamber music, you'll need a grand of 7' to 9'. If you choose a vertical piano for your main performance space, you'll need an upright at least 50" tall for adequate projection of sound to the rear of the hall. But be aware that the choice of a vertical eliminates the use of the space for serious piano recitals or chamber music. Institutions that have a great acoustic environment and a professional piano have become well known as recording venues. If this describes your hall, you might consider what needs your community has in this regard; your building could generate some income from its use as a recording space.
Choir Rooms and Rehearsal Spaces
A grand of 5' 6" to 6' is appropriate for these smaller spaces and less critical uses. In the smallest spaces, a large professional upright will do. In general, a grand is more desirable than a vertical because of the better musical control a grand action provides. In addition, unlike with an upright, the pianist can see over the lid of a grand while accompanying a choral group. However, a better-quality vertical 46" or taller can be musically superior to many grands under 5' 6".
Examples of Suitable Models
- School Studio Verticals 45" to 47": These durable pianos are sold to schools as practice-room instruments. They usually have an angled upper panel with a wide music rack capable of holding many music books, hymnals, or heavy scores. Their cabinets are functional and simple in styling, with toe blocks and large casters for safe, easy moving. Prices for new ones range from $6,000 to $26,000. Use: Practice room, small choir room, Sunday-school room, teaching, very small chapel, accompaniment.
- Professional Verticals 48" to 49": Instruments this size, built for professional use, have larger soundboards, longer strings, and heavier hammers. They are louder and project better. Prices of new ones range from $8,000 to $30,000. Use: Choir room, small sanctuary, accompaniment.
- Large Verticals 50" and taller: These are usually examples of the high end of each maker's vertical-piano line, and can sometimes sound like a grand piano of the same brand. They have much better projection and, usually, such features as a larger music rack and longer keys, as well as better-quality sound-producing materials. Prices of new ones start in the $10,000 – 15,000 range, but elite models can easily reach $50,000 or more. Such pianos are expensive, but can be a better choice than a very small grand when space limitations are severe.
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