Tickling the ivories

14-year-old passionate about piano despite pop culture

Ari Osborn loves to play the piano, but he's sort of an anomaly among his friends.

The 14-year-old who started playing when he was 5, took up the instrument as an extension of the music he heard while his mother, Kathy, played while she was pregnant.

"He was exposed to a lot of music early on," Kathy said. "It has absolutely helped him in a lot of different areas of his life."

While Ari is dedicated to playing for three hours each weekday, his friends mostly play other instruments, such as violin or guitar, he said.

"You can't just be forced into playing piano," Ari said. "You either love it or you don't. I just happened to like it."

The history of the piano is checkered with high and low notes.

The Web site Pagewise credits Italian born Bartolomeo Cristofori with inventing the keyboard instrument for prince Ferdinand 'd Medici of Florence at the turn of the 18th century. Piano's popularity began to take root by the mid-18th century as Romanticism in arts exploded, according to the Web site. Piano manufacturing firms began to dot the United States by the 1920s, and the instrument soon became the hallmark of the working class. The depression of the 1930s hindered piano sales, but by the 1940s, baby grand pianos and spinets were the most popular consumer choices.

But today, children's entertainment options such as playing video games and listening to CDs appear to be cutting into the time families once set aside for piano lessons.

Craig Middle School and Moffat County High School's choir teacher, Noelle Winn, said she doesn't have many students who take piano lessons.

One reason may be that children are into a variety of other activities, she said.

"There's so many kids who are into sports or dance, that they don't have time for anything else," Winn said.

Students at the middle school are required to take a music exploration class. When students are thinking about what kind of instruments to play, they tend to reach for instruments they see in pop culture, she said.

"They're into percussion and guitar and whatever they think the cool thing to do is," Winn said. "In the music they listen to and the videos they see, there's not a lot of piano players. They really care about being cool."

Still, learning music, including piano, is an opportunity for students to use math skills, often without even knowing it, she said.

Composing and learning how to read music requires using fractions. Ari, who produced a CD of his music when he was 10 and is working on another full-length piece, said the discipline of practicing piano is rewarding. He sometimes takes lessons in Denver and recently fared well in a competition in Estes Park.

"In some ways it's harder to get people to listen because they're not used to just hearing someone play solo piano," he said. "That's a little hard to take."

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