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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 worship center or sanctuary, a grand piano is usually the best choice if there is enough space and budget.

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.

Appearance
Ebony polish is usually less expensive than other finishes.  Wood grain finishes, although veneer, can cost more. Pianos also need to complement other wood finishes in same room.

Quality
Be realistic. The youth room may not need a new piano, and a used one may do just fine.  However, the worship center deserves the finest music for God's glory the church can afford.

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.

Budget
God may own the cattle on a thousand hills, but no single church does. We are to be good managers of God's provision. This can include saving for a major purchase like a piano for the sanctuary. It is good to research prices and set a budget before you shop. Budget planning should also include accessories such as bench pads, lamps, moving dolly, dust cover, and key cover lock. 

Process
How will you obtain information from dealers? The three most common methods are 1) sealed bids based on specifications, 2) bids on a particular make and model and 3) asking for a proposal. 

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.

Authority
Once there is agreement on type, quality, budget and process, assign authority to one person. This person becomes the link between the church and the dealer. There may be little decisions to make that are best made quickly rather than by committee. The music director or church pianist is often best equipped to evaluate pianos and do this job. 

Brand Names
Piano makers all have their strengths and weaknesses. There is no one brand that is appropriate for every situation. The manufacturers assign territories to dealers, so comparing prices by brand can be difficult. For example, brand X piano has a dealer near you and in another city 75 miles away. In many cases, by contract, the dealer closest to you should be the one you use. But if that dealer has the higher price and the price is lower at the dealer further away, ask which will give you better service?  Which will charge more for delivery?

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
Look for a dealer with a good reputation, references (such as other churches and schools), and an established business location. A piano sales company at a temporary sales site in a state other than where the company normally does business is less likely to provide good service. Remember that pianos are heavy. The local dealer can give you better service and probably less expensive delivery.

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.

Sidebar
Organs in Today's Worship
By Frank Ezinga

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 
The organ will be most used, and most importantly used, in support of the congregation's song. Today's congregations expect and need strong support from the organ. Brightness, clarity and liveliness of the sounds are far more necessary than sheer volume. No matter how loud it may be, a dull and ponderous tome will stifle the enthusiasm of the congregation in its effort to praise God in song.

Accompaniment of Choirs and Soloists 
An organ capable of accompanying a choir or soloist must have some sort of secondary, softer ensemble, in addition to the brighter, more present sound needed for leading congregational singing. It also must have a palette of sound colors that can be used to enhance and accent the texts and style of the music being sung. Or in the case of instrumentalists, it should blend beautifully with different instruments (clarinet, oboe, flute, violin, etc.).

Solo Liturgical Music 
Prelude, offertories, hymn introductions and postlude should be integral parts of the worship service. Generally, an organ that adequately supports congregational singing and accompanies choirs will also serve well for solo music used in other parts of the service. 

Recitals and Concerts 
Lastly, the organ needs to be adequate to play enough literature so that it can give a respectable account of itself in a recital. Some may ask why recitals and concerts should even be considered in an organ project. As a church community, we are always looking for way to share the Good News with all people in our community and beyond. By opening our doors to the outside and allowing people to come in and hear the beautiful music God has given to us, we are able to share a piece of that Good News with all. 

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.

Product Roundup

Bedient Pipe Organ Company
Bedient Pipe Organ Company has been handcrafting instruments in Nebraska since 1969. In addition to building instruments, the skilled crew at Bedient also:
* Renovates
* Repairs
* Maintains organs
Realizing that organ building is an ever-changing art, Bedient has aggressively developed an eclectic "American" style organ designed to satisfy the unique demands of contemporary worship. 
www.bedientorgan.com

Arndt Organ Supply Company
Arndt Organ Supply Company L.L.C. was begun in 1966 by Robert Arndt.  The company:
* Supplies hard-to-get parts for some older pipe organs
* Builds complete new church organs
* Produces church organ components
As a supply house, the company has provided parts for Radio City Music Hall, St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Air Force Cadet Chapel. They have built new church organs in Iowa, Minnesota and California.  
www.arndtorgansupply.com

Clarinova CVP by Yamaha
The Clavinova CVP-Series digital piano is a good instrument for the 21st century church musician, no matter whether the church favors a traditional or contemporary musical style. The Clavinova features:
* A huge selection of instrument sounds
* Natural piano-style keyboard
* Comprehensive digital capabilities
These features enable a keyboardist to convey the full glory of any inspirational piece.
www.yamaha.com

Helpinstill Piano Sensor
Many churches have found that acquiring a new high-quality piano can be a disappointing experience if the congregation is unable to hear the new instrument.  Helpinstill Piano Sensors:
* Can be easily placed in the piano
* Provide a direct signal to the sound system that cannot hear any other instruments around it
* Never feedback
* Carry a lifetime warranty
All Helpinstill systems are available on a 90-day no-obligation trial basis.
www.helpinstill.com

Reuter Organ Company
The Reuter Organ Company, founded in 1917, designs and builds pipe organs and pipe/digital combination organs for churches, with installations in:
* Worship centers
* Chapels
* Sanctuaries
* Shrines
* Cathedrals
* Synagogues
Reuter has the experience and flexibility to provide solutions for your music ministry.  The company also builds architectural millwork, specializing in custom liturgical projects.
www.reuterorgan.com

Eminent Digital Organs by Church Organ Sales
Eminent digital organs offer churches and organists custom-built organs of high quality and value. The custom designed and built organs provide churches with:
* Versatility
* Sound quality
* Visual beauty
* Tonal distinction not usually available in electronic organs
The company also rebuilds older organs and gives churches the option to add new life to existing pipe organs with modern consoles and digital pipe voices.
www.churchorgansales.com

Steinway Pianos
The family of Steinway-designed pianos are not only favorites of concert pianists, but also are found in houses of worship throughout the United States. Steinway's eight piano models include:
* Uprights with heights ranging from 45 inches to 52 inches
* Grand piano models with lengths that vary from 5 feet 1 inch to 8 feet 11.75
* Nine optional natural-wood finishes
* Prices to fit various budgets
In addition to the Steinway & Sons pianos, the company also produces Boston Piano and Essex models.
www.steinway.com

Ahlborn-Galanti Organs
A music tradition for more than 115 years, Ahlborn-Galanti Organs offer:
* Superior pipe organ sound
* High-quality materials
* Meticulous crafting
* Ongoing innovation
* Strong continuity of commitment to customers
Ahlborn-Galanti organs deliver the majestic, breathing sounds and feel of a fine pipe organat an affordable price.
www.ahlborn-galanti.com

Allen Organs
With Allen organs, traditional and contemporary worship live in harmony. Today's Allen instruments offer exciting possibilities and potential for any style of worship. Organs feature:
* Unique Quad Suite, which places four complete organs at a user's fingertips
* Acoustic Portrait, which brings the detail and realism of digital sampling to acoustics
* Ability to allow a band to play guitars, keyboards or digital pianos through the organ's speakers for unbelievable sound quality
* Expanded audio capabilities feature, meaning there is no need for bulky amplifiers or speakers cluttering the worship space.
www.allenorgan.com

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