In the admin section of my website, I can see what search terms people are most commonly using. For months now, the most popular search terms have been ‘noisy piano practise in apartment’, ‘neighbour nuisance from piano playing’, ‘how to stop pianist practising nearby’ and the like. As a pianist, I find this disturbing.
Readers have asked why pianists can’t simply go and play the piano in their school or college. But of course that is only possible if you are a student in that situation. Lots of pianists, especially those finished with education, don’t have a piano to practise anywhere but their own home. Which young musician has money to hire a studio for hours every day? And though some have acquired digital pianos with a silent mode, to be used with headphones, most concert pianists wouldn’t dream of using digital pianos instead of the good old acoustic pianos we were trained on. The touch is different, the sound is different, and there’s little point in practising all the time on an instrument quite different from the type of piano you’ll be faced with when you get to the concert venue.
It’s striking that people are so annoyed by the sound of piano practice in an age when unwanted music and high volume levels have never been so prevalent. All day long we are subjected to music blaring from car windows, in shops, workplaces, airports. Diners move tables in cafes and restaurants to get away from hi-fi speakers. Builders play their radios loudly as they work. Thin walls reveal our neighbours’ musical preferences all too clearly. Cinema adverts blast out music at uncomfortable levels. TV documentaries have running musical accompaniments. Even doctors and nurses often have to work to someone’s choice of music in the operating theatre.
We’re expected to be tolerant of other people’s music every hour of the day. So you might expect the sound of piano practice to blend into the general melee, except that the opposite seems to be true: people are less tolerant of piano-playing neighbours than they used to be.
Maybe it’s because people have got used to being able to listen to music ‘silently’ at home, on headphones? Perhaps it’s because more of us live in city flats, at close quarters to our neighbours? Could it be that irritation at piano practice is connected with a lack of familiarity with classical music, and a consequent annoyance at the repetition of sounds that don’t immediately ‘make sense’ or seem tuneful?
Is it that live music has become a rare and peculiar thing? Has recorded music made people intolerant of hearing things tried over and over again in different ways? I don’t know the answer, but I’m struck afresh by how strongly people feel about the ‘unjustifiable’ disturbance caused by neighbours playing the piano.