music education

Creating the New Piano Players

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She'll be playing Bach in no time.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Carl Bechstein Foundation is encouraging children to take up the piano, helping ensure there will be a demand for piano makers in the future.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Carl Bechstein founded the company in 1853 in Berlin. His grand pianos were endorsed by the great virtuoso, Franz Liszt.
    • The Carl Bechstein Foundation has provided pianos in more than 80 elementary schools throughout Berlin.
    • The foundation recently received the 2015 German Cultural Promotion Award in the “midsized companies” category.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Playing piano is scientifically proven to help young minds develop. It promotes concentration, creativity and leads to better intuition and reasoning. And the earlier children begin playing, the more they profit.

But that’s often a problem in many elementary schools where there are no pianos and music lessons are limited. And after a long day of school, students often lack the energy, motivation or even time for music school or private lessons.

If the next generation grows up not playing the piano, that’s both a cultural and financial threat, at least for piano makers like the renowned C. Bechstein factory in Berlin.

That’s why the Carl Bechstein Foundation — named for the piano craftsman who founded the company in 1853 — started providing pianos free of charge to elementary schools in the capital. Today students at more than 80 elementary schools can play pianos donated by the foundation, which recently received the 2015 German Cultural Promotion Award in the “midsized companies” category.

“When we began our project, I first looked around in Berlin’s elementary schools. Even when there were instruments, the pianos were in catastrophic condition.”

Gregor Willmes, project leader for the foundation

“When we began our project, I first looked around in Berlin’s elementary schools,” explained Gregor Willmes, project leader for the foundation. “Even when there were instruments, the pianos were in catastrophic condition.”

Through contacts with music teachers, Mr. Willmes managed to warm up the first schools for a new instrument. His offer was enticing: Bechstein would place an instrument for free at the school, pay for transporting the piano and regular tuning.

One possibility of having pianos in elementary schools was an arrangement with music schools to give lessons, either for individuals or in groups.

At the end of two years, if the foundation determines that students are actually playing the new instrument, the organization can decide to give the piano to the school permanently. That has already happened 12 times and more gifts are planned in the coming year, Mr. Willmes said.

One school that profits from its new instrument is the all-day Anna-Lindh-School in Berlin’s Wedding district, an area in the city center with many immigrants and high unemployment.

Children at the school used to play an instrument that was in “terrible” condition, according to Jutta von Falkenhausen, a musician who works with the students through the “Neighborhood Sounds” Association.

Together with the school, the musical association appealed to the Carl Bechstein Foundation last year. They now have a new piano, and many of the pupils are eager to play it.

Mr. Willmes has not set an upper limit on how many pianos the foundation might deliver. “Up to now,” he said, “we have said yes to each motivated school.”

But he also doesn’t want the foundation’s philanthropy to take potential sales away from piano makers. “We only place a piano where, without our engagement, there never would be a new instrument,” he said.

The foundation’s “Pianos for Elementary Schools” project promotes excellence — and in the music world, it’s a long way to the top. The very first step is always individual piano lessons. And in that way, Bechstein pianos build a sturdy foundation.

 

Johannes Wendland is a Handelsblatt contributor. You can reach him at: johannes.wendland@gmx.net.

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