Burn, Baby, Burn

The other day, in searching for some “piano news” to share with you all, we came across some rather disturbing updates. It seems that pianos are being burned – and that they’ve been being burned for quite some time now.


Well, to start, the burning made news as a portion of the UK’s Royal Air Force Centennial Celebration. The varied festivities included a cricket match, a picnic and….wait for it….the burning of a “rather unattractive upright piano” (World Piano News). The military tradition goes back to World War II, though its origin is widely debated between several influences.  It is first supposed that the act of burning a piano pays homage to those who died defending the nation. But let’s be honest – that alone doesn’t exactly make a whole lot of sense, does it?

The more relevant story dates back to the British military believing that their pilots ought to learn to play the piano – for a cultural appreciation of the arts, but also to improve their manual dexterity and their cognitive performance in combat. Hmm. Well, that sounds reasonable!

However, the pilots weren’t too happy about the new requirements….and soon enough mysterious fires were breaking out in the airbases’ Officer Clubs. After some time, officers began dragging the pianos out of the practice areas in an effort to preserve the buildings, but continuing to burn the instruments beyond repair.

Kids, don’t try this at home.

It’s said that piano burning became an “unspoken act of defiance when the pilots felt the bureaucracy was dealing them some unjustice” (Fighter Sweep). And is untimely death not the greatest injustice of all?Therefore it might make some sense that fighter pilots still honor their fallen brothers with the burning of a piano, even if the destruction seems a tad excessive.

Nevertheless, after just a little more research, we also learned about the completely non-militaristic Square Piano Pyre of 1904. Many of us know that a square piano is a rare sight – and this isn’t just a recent development. Production of these massive instruments pretty much stopped in the 1880s to make way for newer models, making replacement parts hard to find and the older instrument somewhat irrelevant. A couple decades later, the increasingly frustrated Society of American Piano Manufacturers actually asked dealers and members to bring their old squares to their Atlantic City convention.

While the number varies from 15 to 1000, it’s said that the pianos were stacked in a large pyramid and burned right there to proclaim the end of the antique style instrument. (News Tribune) So whether it was actually an influential act or not, the moral of the story seems to be that people just like a good excuse to have a big ole bonfire. Even if they’re sacrificing something beautiful rather than attempting to preserve its legacy.

I mean, a square grand isn’t the easiest piano we’ve ever had to tune….but burning one to the ground? That’s pretty hard-core. And also a little sad.

Now it’s become tradition for those whose pianos have lost the will to live to give them a proper dignified sendoff. It’s an excuse for a party, as well! Some piano burning events even allow pianists to play while the fire burns. Anyone wonder what song they choose to sing while it goes down?