Piano is one of hundreds of musicians and his team of volunteers who have saved homes across Britain ignoring the instruments in favor of more space.
Vincent-Smith’s goal is to refurbish as many pianos as possible before they are put up for adoption. Those that cannot be salvaged are turned into art or furniture.
“I found out there were a lot of pianos on the way to the landfill, so I started making furniture – a window seat and a kind of loft bed with a drawer – and then the pianos kept coming,” he told AFP.
With the influx of instruments, Vincent Smith realized that many of them were still “good enough”, so he and colleague Matthew Wright decided to found a piano stand, saving as many as possible.
“If you’re lucky, you might find a beautiful old piano with good movement and sound, well-tuned and fun to play,” he said.
“The best thing for an old piano is to find a new home.”
The tradition of piano making in Britain dates back over 200 years and included around 360 factories at its peak at the turn of the last century.
The country has been a resource to the world, including great classical Western composers such as Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt and Johann Christian Bach – the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The machines were once central to social life and British identity and took pride of place in homes as well as in local pubs, where they were used to wake beer-fueled bachelors.
But as homes shrink and stairways narrow, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to move pianos in confined spaces.
Television and electronic pianos later began to provide an alternative source of nighttime entertainment, leaving traditional pianos to gather dust in the corner of living rooms.
Even owners began finding creative, if destructive, ways to dispose of the instruments: In the 1950s and 1960s, piano-smashing contests were held with the masses.
Vincent Smith first encountered pianos when he started making furniture 20 years ago. At the time, he was living and working at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore on the banks of the Seine in Paris.
The owner would send them to local dumpsters to collect boards for use in making bookshelves, benches, and beds for the traveling staff who worked in the beloved shop of writers like Ernest Hemingway.
Vincent Smith said he was often amazed at the quality of the pianos circulating in the French capital.
– “beautiful thing” –
After the Pianodrome was started, a piano was brought to Edinburgh from Plymouth in the southwest of England and appeared unusable.
“The keys were all sticking together because they were a little damp,” he said.
I raised the edges of the pellets with a mask so as not to poison myself. And then when the keys were able to move, we discovered they looked really cool.
“I started paying more attention to it and got all the notes — and it ended up being kind of our piano.”
Pianos that cannot be restored are dismantled and turned into sculptures, furniture or works of art.
One of Vincent Smith’s works, a six-meter (about 20 ft) tall elephant tusk structure outside the base of the piano yard, aims to highlight what society considers waste.
The Pianodrome now holds regular events as the disused shop is being converted into a concert hall in an amphitheater built entirely from recycled pianos.
There are also open sessions where enthusiasts can try their hand at playing the piano. When they find someone they like, they can “adopt” them and take them home in exchange for a small, optional donation.
As the strings of a concert piano reverberate in the old shop, Vincent Smith looks up and shakes his head once—the piano can be fixed.
“The piano is just one example of something our society considers a waste, but which can be used for a great purpose,” he said.
“So I guess what I would say is people — if you’re thinking of getting rid of your piano, consider keeping it, it’s a beautiful thing, piano.”