Fans of BBC Radio 4 may remember tuning into Jamie Cullum’s Piano Pilgrimage earlier this year, with three hour-long broadcasts airing back in January. The show followed Cullum around the United Kingdom, meeting piano enthusiasts, players and dealers. From talks with Newark College students, currently studying on the United Kingdom’s only tuning course, to jamming alongside Chas and Dave in The Three Kings pub in Clerkenwell, the radio show gave us an exciting insight into the past and present of our favourite instrument.
To hear more from Jamie Cullum’s Piano Pilgrimage, click on the audio files below
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As well as exploring the origins and history of the piano, Jamie Cullum shows us the continued importance of the instrument in many people’s lives today. I was lucky enough to make a similar pilgrimage, swapping the great British weather for the sights and sun of Mumbai, India.
The piano first gained popularity in India during British colonial rule in the 19th and 20th centuries. Although the size and cost of pianos have always prevented its widespread use, we can still find three major piano shops in Mumbai. We visited Furtados, Theme Music and Bhargava’s Musik, to find out if pianos differed to back here at The Piano Shop Bath.
I met Anthony Gomes of Furtados at their showroom on a busy road in the old city, where I spoke to the staff and tried out a few of their models. They sold plenty of upright, grand and digital pianos, from the likes of Yamaha, Kawai and Korg. The staff at Furtados also offer services such as tuning and other maintenance to deal with the problems caused by the heat and humidity of India’s southern coastal towns. Furtados’ new ‘Institute of Piano Technology’ is expected to produce many experts in the tuning and maintenance of pianos over the next few years. Indian piano players can also enjoy pianos made with environment-resistant materials, like Kawai’s carbon impregnated nylons.
The next stop on our piano pilgrimage to Mumbai brought us nearer to the airport, where we found Theme Music and Bhargava’s Musik. These two shops are resellers of Kawai and Yamaha respectively, and we stopped by to meet Prakash Subramanian and Jitendra Sigh of the two shops. At Theme Music we played a few of the small Kawai grand pianos on display, like the GM 10, 20 and 30, as well as browsing their Kawai RX range. Next door at Bhargava’s Musik we were lucky enough to try out a brand new Yamaha C2 Conservatory Series Grand piano, as well chatting to both shop owners about the future of the piano industry in Mumbai.
Anthony and Prakesh spoke of the advantages of their co-location, in spite of the fact that Yamaha and Kawai are major competitors. The two shops aim to give customers a wide range of choice, with the option to directly compare pianos. They adopt a similar attitude The Piano Shop Bath, where we stock new and used pianos from the likes of Yamaha, Kawai, Steinberg and Weber. However, while Jamie’s Piano Pilgrimage showed a thriving industry here in the United Kingdom, on our own piano pilgrimage we discovered a less bright future for India.
One of the reasons that the piano is not as popular as it could be in Mumbai, is the high cost of the instrument. India imposes a 100% ‘new price’ tariff on used pianos, meaning it isn’t cost-effective to import them from the likes of Europe and Japan. On top of this is comes VAT and local taxes, which together account for 45% of the price of imported pianos.
If there was a way around this import tax, then an influx of used pianos from all round the world would help drive the piano market in Mumbai. But for now it’s back to The Piano Shop Bath, and we can only look forward to embarking on another Mumbai piano pilgrimage in the near future.
Robb Lawton is a pianist, piano enthusiast and core part of the team at The Piano Shop Bath. He has been playing for many years, and as a father and grandfather he is a real advocate of the rewards piano playing can bring to children. Not surprisingly, all his children and grand children play the piano.