AMIS 2022: The Early Piano in America, 1745–1810

The American Musical Instrument Society (AMIS) promotes better understanding of all aspects of the history, design, construction, restoration, and usage of musical instruments in all cultures and from all periods. In June 2022, their annual meeting was held at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre.

The Early Piano in America, 1745–1810
Thomas Strange

Thomas Strange has a background in materials science and is the author of fifty-five patents and numerous papers covering power component development over the past forty years. Strange has presented lectures and concerts on early piano development in England and the US. His books on the Kirkman family of harpsichord builders and Geib family of piano makers have greatly expanded the understanding of the early keyboard industry. Strange is Executive Director of the Sigal Music Museum in Greenville, SC.

The concept for a stringed keyboard instrument that plays both soft and loud, the “pianoforte,” has now been shown to have arrived in America contemporaneously, and perhaps even before its appearance in London, and new examples have brought real understanding to the place of the piano in American culture. This paper will survey recent discoveries at the Sigal Music Museum collection of a piano making tradition that was smaller, but no less sophisticated, than the far larger and well-researched London tradition. The role of the builder’s wives is highlighted with examples of their involvement where examples have been found, and the beginnings of the dynamic shift from London-made pianos to American pianos is traced in written and object-oriented evidence. In particular, this paper will highlight the recent appearance of the first pianos made and advertised for sale in America by John Sheybli and John Behrent; it will discuss the pianos of Charles Taws, Charles Albreight, Whaites & Charters, the John Geib family, and Benjamin Crehore, with several extant examples now in the Sigal Music Museum collections, and covering the three major piano building centers in early America. The paper will show how instrument building was imported from London and the continent to form a nascent piano industry that would later grow to eclipse the building traditions in the rest of the world, later in the nineteenth century.

Watch more videos from the 2022 AMIS Conference here.