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By John G. Taylor

Buy a Patek Philippe and you won’t actually own the watch. You’ll just be looking after it for the next generation. At least that’s what the company says, which doesn’t sound like much of a sales pitch. When you’re paying over 20,000 Euros for a piece of jewelry, you want to feel you own the thing. The next generation can buy one for themselves.

And in practice that is what happens. Few watches are actually passed down from one generation to the next, much to the relief of the next generation. Today, the young would probably prefer the latest Bluetooth-connected, wrist-mounted information panel that reads aloud their email and takes SMS dictation over a chronograph that shows them the phases of the moon.

Not So with Pianos

But that is not true of musical instruments. When we put a piano in the corner of the living room, there really is the belief that we’re not just doing it so that we can enjoy playing Bach on a rainy Sunday afternoon. We’re also doing it in the hope that our children will want to pull up the stool, place their fingers over the keys, ignore the pedals they can’t reach and begin tinkering with their first notes.

And it happens. It always does. For the next generation, a musical instrument in a room is a like a lit fireplace on a cold day. It draws them in. They’ll sit and they’ll play and they’ll laugh at the random noises their fingers can make. Until we take their hands and begin to guide them.

We show them how to play one note after another to create a simple tune, and we see the joy on their faces when they realize they can do it for themselves. We take our hands away and give them the piano. At first, they struggle to remember which keys to play when. They make mistakes, stop, go back and start again. Little by little, though, they begin to take possession of the instrument.

You Get To Keep Your Instrument

With classes and practice that ownership grows. It doesn’t happen quickly. Years pass, but eventually those first plonking notes become concertos and recitals. Add enthusiasm to Chopsticks, set an example and wait a decade or so, and you will walk into the living room to find your teenage son or daughter sight-reading Chopin.

Something will have happened in those years, and it will be the piano that will have done it. That instrument you thought was all yours, the piano—or the violin, the cello or the guitar—with which you thought you had a special relationship has been secretly sharing its secrets with someone else.

While you weren’t listening, it was passing something to the next generation.

That something wasn’t the piano itself. It was something even more valuable than that and something that can’t be seen or shown or handed over in a box. It was a love of music, a passion for playing and the ability to create beauty and art from training and skill and sensitivity.

Watch-lovers might dream of handing over their instruments. Music-lovers hand over music—and they get to keep the instrument.

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