First Person Singular: Piano store owner Ronald Boyd

First Person Singular
Name: Ronald Boyd
Occupation: Owner, Boyd's Pianos, Falls Church
Home: Vienna | Age: 67 (Benjamin C. Tankersley)
  Enlarge Photo    
Sunday, January 31, 2010

The piano store in my home town was owned by the Rose brothers, who were very, very smart. They'd moved to Phoenix from Kansas City, Mo., when everyone was moving there -- without their pianos. So these brothers would go back to all those old farmhouses in Kansas, Idaho and Missouri, get these old family uprights and bring them to Phoenix. Then they'd fix 'em up and resell them to those Midwesterners who missed their pianos. That's where I got my start in '51. They'd been hiring winos, who, believe it or not, were excellent piano tuners. But these guys would make lots of money, then go on a binge and not show up for days. I showed up.

Pianos have a never-ending life. They're made of trees, earth and animal. They're hardy. As long as that plate isn't broken, they can just keep on living, getting rebuilt and resold. People have an emotional attachment to pianos, even if they've never played, because they've been in the family. Look, pianos don't talk back. They sit there, and if you stroke them right, they sound pretty good. Pianos have no political agenda. So when [people] have to get rid of one, it's usually because there's some big shift in their lives: death, change of lifestyle or moving -- it all adds up. They have to move on to a next phase, and there's no room for a piano in it. That's when I see the tears. Every one of these pianos has a story.

I can't remember the last time I played my piano. I can play, but it's nothing you'd pay to listen to. Now my girlfriend, she's a concert pianist -- hey, it goes with the territory. Just amazing. She has $100,000 worth of my pianos at her house, two of the best, that I'm letting her use. My house is pretty quiet.

I don't mind selling to people who will never play; they keep me in business. Emotionally, I'd like to sell to needy musicians who just love the piano and play it every day, but I'd be crying all the way to the bank. All of us in this business have taken a hit. There are less customers, and this recession is not over yet. I own my property. I own all the pianos. So I'm just going to wait it out. There will always be a market for skill. And I'm optimistic, because people will always want music in their life. Not superficial music that comes into their headphones, but real music that comes from their touch.

Interview by Amanda Long

© 2010 The Washington Post Company