University dumps perfectly good pianos

University dumps perfectly good pianos


norman lebrecht

May 19, 2020

From Dean May, an Indiana piano builder writes:

I probably had 20 people contact me today to let me know ISU was filling dumpsters up with pianos. So I drive by to take a look. This is a $10k classic piano that had nothing wrong with it.

I researched a little back story. Most if not all the pianos were regularly maintained and very serviceable instruments. Apparently the bean counters decided to cut maintenance spending by buying a bunch of new digital pianos.

This particular piano came out of a teaching studio of one of the university’s well known and respected instructors.

I’m speechless.

Edit: ISU=Indiana State University

The local newspaper took up the issue. Mr May continues:

Mark Alesia, ISU director of communication, said the pianos were old and “virtually beyond repair” to the point they could not be sold at a public auction.”

Mr. Alesia is a communications director. I am a 40 year piano technician. The ISU piano technician is 25 years in the business. We would both disagree with Mr. Alesia’s assessment.

No doubt some of the pianos were in badly scarred cabinets. But they were all playable and were up to near standard pitch. And some of them were in quite good condition, particularly the Knabe grand in the picture and a Yamaha grand nearby. There are two Knabe’s on eBay right now in similar condition for near $8k and they are only 5’6″. The one in the picture is bigger and worth more money. The Steinway upright I saw also had market value.

This was a colossal blunder. But you won’t ever hear that from a spokesman.


  • Petros Linardos says:

    Their word against his.

    What I don’t understand is how one can assess a piano’s condition when it is in a dumpster. Can one play it and examine it inside and look from below?

    • Brettermeier says:

      Since when again it’s the “director of communication” whose expertise in pianos we trust more than that of piano technicians?

      Screw the experts, I say! Now, where the bleach?

      So much winning!

      • John Borstlap says:

        I also never trust a dentist and when necessary, I only visit the practice to do the drilling myself with a mirror. One always knows better.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        This is insulting. If I believed the director of communication, or the US Fascist in Chief I would have said so.

    • Fred Funk says:

      Because he serviced them. They were broken apart, to get them out of the building. Most of those pianos came from the Hulman Endowment for the School of Music. Yes, the pianos were intentionally destroyed, broken, to get them out of the spaces. Tier IX music school….

  • Piano fan says:

    And you can bet your bottom dollar (or pound) that this same university will be putting its hand out looking for donations for its music program, if it hasn’t already.

  • Jack says:

    Why could they not have donated them to schools?

    • V.Lind says:

      Do schools still want pianos? What would they do with them? By most accounts nobody is learning to play them any more. I wonder how many piano teachers there are in American schools.

      They could surely have afforded an ad, however, giving the pianos away to anyone prepared to arrange their transport.

      But a little less blame to Mr Alesia. He was probably the one designated to take the inquiry, but in no way would he have been the one who made the decision to get rid of the pianos.

      • Ory Shihor says:

        Lots of people are learning how to play actually – young to old and all over the world. There is however a decline in students who pursue piano as a degree choice.

        • Nelson says:

          Decline? Perhaps in some institutions. I assure you the major schools are full up and always turning away 9 out of 10 applicants.

    • Pat says:

      They tried but nobody wanted them. There is a good write up about this on the internet via Terre Haute, IN.

      • V.Lind says:

        I found it. Seems they made some efforts, but not to the general public, where they might have had some takers. However it peaks ill of the level of interest in piano playing in Terre Haute. (And, yes, I know it is far from alone).

        One more exemplar of the almost totally successful dumbing on of America.

    • Bill says:

      Do you know that they didn’t try?

      The thing about bean counters is that they are often pretty good at identifying current expenses. Maybe not quite as good at identifying expenses in the suggestions for changes, especially intangible ones, but if they say this is costing us a bundle (or will), they are often correct.

      But let’s say you hear a local university is planning to ditch some pianos. Do you a) complain about the tragedy, or b) try to help find better homes for those pianos? If b), are you motivated enough to house the unwanted pianos yourself while searching for their new forever homes?

    • Jack says:

      ISU doubtless has its own on-staff piano technician who could decide on the condition of any instrument, so these probably didn’t meet the ‘donation’ standard.

      That said, I had a ‘junker’ years ago that a piano technician like Mr. May paid me $400 for because he said it could be restored to serviceable condition.

      • SVM says:

        Actually, it seems that ISU’s technician believed that the instruments *did* meet ‘donation’ standard. I refer Jack to the part that says:

        “The ISU piano technician is 25 years in the business. We would both disagree with Mr. Alesia’s [negative] assessment.”

        I draw your particular attention to the word “both”.

    • Fred Funk says:

      It’s a suitcase college. Deserted by 1pm on Thursday’s. With DePauw, Indiana University, and farther out with University of Illinois, and Ball State University, this is the Last Chance music school. And boy, they have last chance administration that does this stupid stuff. Don’t be surprised when it’s closed.

      • GG82 says:

        Indeed. You should see the mice-infested nearly-unplayable pianos at the Benjamin T Rome School of the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. They should send a truck to pick up those pianos from the dumpster, because the Indiana dumpster pianos are in better shape than theirs.

  • Leonardo Bautista says:

    Music schools in Mexico need pianos. We would definitely welcome those discarded pianos.

  • Tom M. Brown says:

    Insanity! A crying shame. We all know a good piano can easily have a usable life of 40-50 years. And LONGER with a decent rebuild!
    And who wants to practice on an electric piano?????

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Most school and university pianos look awful and the wood takes a terrible beating. (We violinists who put our instrument cases on the closed lids are part of the problem of course). They can also get pounded to death but that is true of even nice looking pianos. And a good technician can work some miracles provided certain basics are not utterly ruined.

    But I suspect the real motivation here is that those digital pianos won’t need a tuner or a technician or anybody, just someone who can repair an electric plug and that is just about anybody. That is where the savings are. The dumpster was likely their way of making sure outraged piano faculty didn’t have a chance to block the decision.

  • Edgar says:

    Leave it to bean counters to throw culture out the window and savage the world. What the heck. They can’t play a piano and don’t know what music is. They count beans. And very likely don’t even know how one can actually prepare and eat them.

  • Travis says:

    Picture looks like president! Carrying the piano. SOMEONE GOT piaNO B on their hands !

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    This is what happens with capitalism and USA university system. Schools should provide students with luxuries such as new expensive pianos every few years so they can justify the huge fees they charge students and continue requesting gifts from rich donors. Oh, well…

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Some cities put old pianos in open public spaces where people can play on them if they want. Was this an option?

    But getting rid of a piano is very hard. Much like burying a dead body.

    The only place to put it where no one will find it is on Page 2 of a Google Search.

  • Victor Trahan says:

    Insane decision. ISU funding should be slashed immediately. Pianos are not garbage.

  • fflambeau says:

    Nice story. The piano man is an expert.

  • James Cook says:

    It is disgusting that these pianos should be destroyed; they should be made available free to any musician who can not afford one

  • Jean E Gress says:

    The worst part of this is the assumption that an electronic piano is the same as an acoustic one.

  • David Moran says:

    Probably these were salvageable, but it is a fact that you cannot easily even give away good grand pianos these days, as I discovered calling conservatories (this is in Boston!) and churches and care facilities and also posting on craigslist for a baby Steinway. There are many many many dozens such languishing everywhere. One local conservator told me they get such a call every other week.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Gradually, classical music and playing it at home is disappearing. Younger generations don’t understand where the thing is for.

    • Fred Funk says:

      There was nothing wrong with a few of them. They were destroyed, versus disassembled, by professionals. Similar purchased pianos, roughly at the same time as these, are still functioning at Indiana, Purdue, and Ball State Universities. In groups, these pianos had an estimated replacement value of over $300,000.

      Ok, call it whatever you like, to dismiss that in your mind. I’ll take Dean May’s expertise over yours. The people that don’t understand this aren’t really well versed, or educated on this. Trying to dismiss him, or qualify the conditions of the pianos, by you, unseen, is laughable. There’s too many people out here trying to be critical and dismissive of Dean’s expertise. This level of ignorance is typical of people that use their own powers of Googling, and have only a marginal education. They’re into conspiracies.

      Terre Haute isn’t deserving enough to have a School of Music. It’s needs a School of Dentistry.

  • Rayna says:

    I am pianist living abroad. I would have taken one of these pianos and payed for its delivery! Do people really take things for granted in America? Even the most expensive things lose their value in the name of consumerism?? I am outraged!!