The Painless Purchase of a Piano for a Church
By: Lewis Spencer
How should a church get the best instrument at the best price with the best service? As a minister of music, piano teacher, piano salesman and now senior pastor, I have a unique perspective on this. Before shopping, there are decisions the church needs to make, information to collect, and questions to ask of any dealer.
Pianos are for sale all around us. Here is something you may not know: Piano manufacturers choose to sell their pianos through dealers. This is to ensure you have the best possible experience in the purchase, delivery and maintenance of your investment. Profitable piano makers know the value of a satisfied customer. Buying a piano from a private owner can be advantageous if you do not need delivery or a warranty and you understand its true condition. Having a technician check the piano may or may not be worth the cost. If you purchase a piano for your church from a neighbor, the newspaper or the Internet, you may save a little money but purchase many headaches.
Conversely, dealers often include their own service plan concurrent with the manufacturer's warranty to cover the little repairs such as sticking keys. They also have professional delivery people who know how to move and install a piano. Dealers are trained by the manufacturers to provide the customer with the information they need to choose the appropriate piano for their needs. If you need a digital piano, the dealer should be able to teach you how to use all the features. The dealer is also your advocate in warranty issues. Normally, the dealer contacts the manufacturer, has the work approved, orders the parts and sends a certified technician to do the work.
So, say the need for a piano has been determined. A committee or a purchasing agent has been assigned by the church to procure one. Now what? You need to make the basic determinations.
Types of Pianos
For a classroom, the vertical or upright piano is best with two exceptions. First, if the room is subterranean, you need to use a digital. Humidity in basements harms acoustic pianos. The humidity will make it difficult, if not impossible, to keep the piano tuned and in good repair. Second, if visibility is an issue, as in the event of an organist/choirmaster who directs the choir from the organ, placing an upright piano in the choir room may hide the director from the choir.
A console piano may be a solution, as they are shorter in height. However, they may be too small to be heard by a large choir. Options include a small petite grand piano or baby grand piano or a digital piano with an external amplifier and speaker system.
Pianos are manufactured in a variety of grades. There are "price point" pianos, which are inexpensive and for light duty. There are medium-grade pianos appropriate for classrooms, rehearsal rooms or a chapel. Artist-grade pianos are well made, have a refined touch and wonderful sound, and are the first choice for worship, concerts and rehearsals. There are grand pianos and uprights in every grade. Pianos vary widely in price. Determining the appropriate quality of piano you need is a crucial step.
Sealed bids make it difficult to compare "apples to apples." Since dealers are given market areas, bids on a particular make and model are not likely to save you money. A proposal will let the dealer state the pros and cons of their brand(s) and open the door to questions to refine your knowledge and determine which piano is best for your situation.
Other factors are availability and history. The brand you know may or may not be available. It may also have changed ownership. This can affect quality and features. Further, you may not be aware of brands that are equivocal to your favorite. If you have not bought a piano recently, you may never have heard some very fine and less expensive makers of pianos. The best piano is the one that has the best sound, feel, appearance and durability you can afford.
Working with a Dealer
Tell the dealer the determinations you made above and if you have a piano to trade in. Let them know if it is a single purchase or if you plan to buy more, as in the case of a new education building. Be up front, honest and open. Negotiating games may harm your church's reputation and witness as well as cost more money in the long run. If you develop a relationship with a dealer, subsequent issues such as warranty work, additional purchases and tunings will be pleasant experiences.
Asking for an institutional or church discount is appropriate since many dealers desire repeat business from a good customer. Ask about delivery charges. If they say delivery is free, know you are paying for it in the price of the piano. Ask if the bench is included and what it looks like. If it is a small artist bench designed for one person and your church pianist plays duets with her daughter, you will want to get a duet bench. Ask if any tunings are included in the price. Some dealers tune a piano before delivery and provide a free tuning within the first year. Moving a piano does not affect tuning much. Change of environment as related to temperature and humidity affects tuning much more than motion.
Once you have made a list of dealers and have information from them, have the committee review and discuss it. Break it down to compare apples to apples. As much as it is possible, take emotion out of the process and use facts. How did it sound? Does the piano have the right touch? Will it look appropriate in the room? What comes with it in terms of warranty, delivery and accessories?
Usually, after some thinking and sharing the best choice will "miraculously appear." At this point, turn the process over to your purchasing agent and let them arrange the purchase of the piano.
On or before delivery day, have all the financial, tax, warranty and any other contractual papers in order. Check the invoice for all items discussed. Have a space prepared for the piano including an easy-to-negotiate delivery path.
Finally, when it's over, have a celebration day and dedicate the new piano to God for His glory and thank the people involved in purchasing it for the church.
The prayerful diligent effort to purchase a piano for God's kingdom is an act of love for God, his people and love of music. The reward is heard and felt every time the piano is played. It is often the final finishing touch on the new sanctuary or education building that enthusiastically declares Solo Deo Gloria!
Lewis Spencer is the pastoral team leader at Whitehall Baptist Church in Philadelphia. He is also a piano teacher and church music specialist at Bucks County Piano in Levittown, Pennsylvania. He served churches as a minister of music and associate pastor in Virginia, New Mexico and Arizona before moving to Pennsylvania.
No other instrument has been so intrinsically identified with worship and the church as has the organ. In traditional worship, the organ is the backbone of the musical service. It can provide gathering and exiting music, accompany the choirs and soloists, and enrich hymn and psalm singing for the congregation. But no matter what the task, the organ historically has been the instrument of worship.
When the organ is played with authority, the organ can provide accompaniment and leadership for almost all types of congregational song.
As churches and congregations pursue "renewal" in worship, in theology, in music, in congregational song, and in personal piety, the organ and the organist should not be considered obsolete. The organ has century-old roots that are still vibrant and healthy, and can continue to be of service. In the hands of a competent musician who can play with sensitivity and skill, the organ can effectively accompany in a variety of styles and moods.
A church must concern itself with several elements of modern worship as its sets about considering its options in obtaining an organ. Four specific needs stand out.
Support of Congregational Singing
Accompaniment of Choirs and Soloists
Solo Liturgical Music
Recitals and Concerts
An organ with a proper design and installation for congregational singing, choir and soloist accompanying, and service music will serve all these needs.
Frank Ezinga is the organist of the Canadian Reformed Church at Langley, BC. As an active guest lecturer, he addresses congregations, bible study groups and young people, throughout Western Canada. He also conducts workshops about church music, accompaniment, and congregational singing.
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