Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin with a personal story about every piano I’ve lived with! I started selling pianos out of my home decades ago. So, I’m not going to include every single piano I have literally lived with, but every single one that was my practice piano. There are a lot of them, so let’s get started!
When I was born, there was a big old Sohmer upright in my bedroom.
Before I studied piano, my older sister studied with my father. He had a studio upstairs in our home. This was in a Levitt house. This is the house where my father taught Billy Joel among many other people. We moved when I was about five years old. That old Sohmer was my practice piano when we moved. It was a good piano, but my father had in his studio in our home a Baldwin L 6′ 3″ grand, as well as a Steinway model S, a beautiful little baby grand his father had given to him in the 1930s. So, I got to play those pianos as well.
Eventually, because my sister and I both studied the piano with my father and had to practice. So, my father bought a brand new Baldwin Hamilton studio upright.
I was about 12 years old. That piano was upstairs, and the Sohmer upright was downstairs. Both my sister and I taught piano also. We would teach in the playroom where that big old Sohmer was. But upstairs, we had the nicer Hamilton to play and practice on.
My father taught at Hofstra University, but he also did a great deal of teaching right in our home. He taught countless hours, but always had an hour long dinner break from 6:00 to 7:00. I would finish dinner by 6:30 and dash downstairs to play the pianos in his studio.
A few years later, my father stepped it up and bought a brand new 7 foot Baldwin SF-10 semi-concert grand. That piano was such a joy to play! At that point, the Steinway baby grand went upstairs, and my parents sold the Sohmer upright. So, then my sister and I had the beautiful Steinway baby grand to practice on, and in the playroom was the Baldwin Hamilton. I was in heaven, especially those 30 minutes after dinner playing that 7′ Baldwin. I absolutely loved it! But practicing on the Steinway baby grand was not so bad either!
When I moved to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music, my father was nice enough to let me take the Steinway baby grand.
I had that piano in my apartment to practice on. When I moved to Southern Illinois University to study with Ruth Slenczynska, he moved that piano into my apartment there. Then, when I transferred to Indiana University, Bloomington, I took the piano with me. Eventually, I lived with a family in a beautiful house in the country. It was wonderful living with nice people in a gorgeous house, and they had a nice baby grand. It wasn’t as good as the Steinway, but there was no place to put the Steinway. So, the Steinway ended up going to my sister in Ohio, and I practiced on their Schumann baby grand. It was rebuilt, and nothing special. But I had a serviceable instrument to practice on.
Eventually, I moved out of that house and I didn’t have a piano! I had just graduated, so I didn’t have much money. I found a big old Gulbransen upright, not unlike the old Sohmer upright from years ago. It was a nice piano with a good sound. Although, it was only an upright piano. But it served pretty well. Of course, I needed a grand piano for repetition, trills, not to mention the una corda pedal.
After we got married, my wife and I took all the money that we got as gifts and put that toward a brand new Baldwin Model M 5′ 2″ baby grand.
It was a struggle to make those payments. At that time, the interest rate was 18%! Can you believe that? It took five years to pay it off. In the meantime, I was building up my teaching. When people would call me for lessons, the first question I would ask is, “Do you have a piano?” And most people didn’t have pianos! This was before you could buy a serviceable digital piano for a few hundred bucks. They didn’t exist yet! So, I bought an old upright and had my tuner fix it up. If somebody called me for lessons, I could offer the piano for sale so I could accept the student. Then I was brave and I bought two uprights!
Pretty soon we had 27 pianos in our home!
We didn’t have a huge home, but it was built on a hill with a walkout basement. There was also a big picture window where I put my recording studio. We had a lot of pianos and started getting serious with selling pianos. There was such a need for it, because most people didn’t grow up with pianos and didn’t know how to buy a used piano. So, I made it my business to help people to get pianos. Of course, it also helped my teaching business and the recording studio. Everything was working well.
At a certain point, I got a used Baldwin L.
This Baldwin L was a nice piano. So,I decided to put up my Baldwin M for sale along with the L. Even though the Baldwin M was newer and more refined, the L was longer and had a bigger bass. Instead of a 5′ 2″ like my Baldwin M, it was 6′ 3″. So, I put them both up for sale thinking, “Whichever one sells, I’ll keep the other one.” Famous last words! They both sold almost immediately!
And there I was without a piano!
Can you believe this? At that point I had to find a new piano. I found a Kawai baby grand that became my practice instrument. It was a good little piano. Of course, I still wanted something bigger. That’s when I came across a young woman who was helping her father (a retired piano technician) sell his 6′ 2″ Steinway XR grand. So, that became my piano. I also bought a state-of-the-art Kurzweil K250 for my recording studio . This was a full-fledged synthesizer workstation that not only had all the instruments of the orchestra, it also had a beautiful piano sound with 88 real wooden keys. That was in the control room of my studio.
I outfitted my Steinway grand with MIDI. I became a dealer of this technology. I started helping people around the country who wanted to interface their acoustic pianos with computers. This was way back in the ’80s! I could play the Steinway grand and hear the sounds of the Kurzweil. So I could, for example, layer an orchestra with the piano performance. It was great for the recording studio.
Living in the small town of Bloomington, Indiana was great for a lot of reasons.
You could get on your bike and in 10 minutes, you’re in the country. It was idyllic. But at the same time, a town of 50,000 is a difficult place to make a living as a musician. We had a music store and recording studio downtown called, Music House. My wife was traveling three hours away to play with various orchestras. And even though I had a full-line music store, a recording studio, a lesson program, and a piano rebuilding shop, it was still tough to make ends meet. So, we moved to Los Angeles. I sold my Steinway, but I had a lot of new pianos because we had inventory from the store. The piano I brought to California was a brand new 6′ 1″ Wurlitzer. But soon after moving to California, I found yet another 6′ 3″ Baldwin L grand piano in the used market. I got a great deal on it. So, I sold the Wurlitzer to a church that was looking for a piano. They were very happy with it, and I was very happy with my Baldwin L. I had my technician dial it in, and that was it. I was satisfied with my piano.
My piano tuner, who was a master technician, had been a concert technician for years. He owned a 7 foot Mason & Hamlin BB. This piano was his personal piano, and he had babied it. He put new hammers and dialed it in to perfection. It was a Pre-Aeolian Mason & Hamlin from 1929. He wanted to sell it, and I agreed to help him. So, he put it in my studio. But as soon as I played it, I wanted it!
As great as the 6′ 3″ Baldwin L was, to go to that 7′ range, was a whole new ball game.
I asked my technician to give me a chance to see if I could sell my Baldwin so I could afford to buy his Mason & Hamlin. He gave me that chance, and I managed to do it! Then I had the ultimate piano. It was the nicest piano I’d ever played! I loved it! I thought it would be my piano forever.
I had another Baldwin L that I had for sale. It was in my studio along with my other instruments. A concert pianist from San Diego came to look at it. He had friends who were looking for a piano, and they asked him to check out the Baldwin L for them. So, he came in and he played that piano. Then he sat down at my Mason & Hamlin BB. I let him know that that piano wasn’t for sale. But he played it for a long time before eventually leaving. A few days later he came back. He let me know that his friends were interested in buying the Baldwin, but he had to have the Mason & Hamlin. He made me a generous offer I couldn’t refuse. I knew with the money from the sale of the two grands I could replace that Mason & Hamlin. But the only way to go was bigger! So, I went on a hunt for the ultimate concert grand!
I ended up finding an absolutely out of this world 9′ Baldwin SD-10 concert grand.
This piano had sustain, power, clarity, warmth, everything I could possibly hope for. My piano technician had been a master technician in the concert market in Dallas for years. He tuned and serviced countless concert grands for performances. He said that my piano was among the best two or three pianos he had ever come across in his life. I was set! We moved into a big live-work loft with 19-foot ceilings and started a concert series, Art District Concerts, right in our own home. It was awesome! We could fit 80 people comfortably there. And that piano sounded glorious in that room.
Eventually, we moved out of the loft and our new living room was just normal size. Concert grand pianos are meant for large halls. It was just too loud! It had so much volume that I would practice with this piano completely closed with a felt string cover. I decided to sell the piano because it was just too big for where I was living. The good news was, I had several people interested, including two new concert halls that were looking for pianos, and they both wanted this piano. Of course with concert halls there are committees who make these decisions. And as it went through the boards, we were just waiting to see which one was going to get that spectacular piano.
Both parties had agreed to have me play the dedication concert for my piano.
As luck would have it, one Sunday afternoon, an elderly couple came in from the desert. The man sat down and played one piece on my SD-10 concert grand and wrote me a check for my asking price. That was it, just one piece.
The one piece he played was Chopstix!
So, that’s who ended up with my concert grand, the greatest piano of all time. I’m sure he enjoys it.
Right around the same time, I inherited my father’s 7′ Baldwin SF-10, that magnificent piano that I loved so much as a kid.
I had the piano beautifully restored, and that is my personal piano to this day. This SF-10 is a glorious instrument, one of the finest pianos I’ve ever played. In this whole lineage of pianos, I think I ended up with the right one. I remember as a teenager, when this piano came to our house, how excited we all were and how beautiful the tone was. And it’s still producing such gorgeous music after all these years. You can hear a performance of the Chopin E-flat Nocturne, Opus 9 no. 2 I played on this piano.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this personal story about all my pianos, and thanks so much for joining me. Again, I’m Robert Estrin, here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource. We’ll see you next time.