An Open Letter About Ivory

Dear friends:

I feel compelled to write this letter due to the fact that not a day goes by when my inbox is not inundated with some very angry letters shaming me, the piano industry of yesteryear, African poachers, the oil industry, my uncle Carl, etc for the use of Ivory in piano keys, harvested from elephants.

Let me be perfectly clear in saying this: Ivory has not been used in pianos for decades. No animals have been killed to make piano keys in as many years. It is illegal to do anything to harm an animal to buy, sell, or trade Ivory. Treaties have been signed, laws have been passed. Yes, I’m sure there are still folks out there who don’t play by the rules and sell Ivory as fast as they can get their hands on it, but you can all rest assured: they aren’t manufacturing piano keys out of it.

I like animals. Very much so. I have two dogs, and I love them both. I think elephants are neat, and I enjoy seeing them at the zoo. But for you folks who come here, to my blog, which I have intended as a source of information and education, to spew angry rhetoric about how “killing elephants is bad;” you only succeed in making yourselves look misinformed and ignorant.

Yes, elephants were killed for their Ivory. Yes, elephant ivory was used to make piano keys. (About 5,000 pianos could he made out of one set of tusks, but that’s beside the point…) It wasn’t because some piano magnate was a fan of killing as many elephants as possible. It’s because Ivory was the best material up until that time to make piano keys, with many ideal properties that facilitated proper piano technique. Beethoven probably wrote most of his music on pianos with Ivory keys. Yet I don’t see you folks writing angry letters to him and leaving them on his grave.
Things change. We learn and grow as humans. We don’t do things the way they used to be done. Doctors aren’t on television commercials anymore, touting one brand of cigarettes over another to promote healthy lung function. We know better. And since elephants have been hunted to the point of endangerment and near extinction, we don’t use their Ivory to make piano keys. We haven’t for many many years.

You couldn’t buy a new piano with Ivory keys today. If you tried, the dealer would laugh in your face, and he would have every right to. If you are some eccentric billionaire who has paid someone to poach an elephant to make a custom set of Ivory keys for your new piano, I wish you’d find some other use for your bankroll. But the preceding situation is so ludicrous, I regret even entertaining the possibility of its existence.

Many pianos have Ivory keysets that are still in lovely form and functioning and looking as well as they did when the pianos first were rolled onto a showroom floor. But they all share one common thread: the elephants killed to make their keys are dead. They have been dead for decades. They are dead, and no matter how much you may weep over their deaths, they are not ever coming back. Coming onto the Internet to chastise me for acknowledging the former uses of Ivory will not bring them back. Clogging up my email with angry dribble will not bring them back.

So, if you feel so inclined, please: go home and set your piano with Ivory keys on fire. Just remember to evacuate yourself and your loved ones out of your house before it burns down with you in it. If I might suggest a more productive outlet for your passion, before you set fire to your Steinway, or before you begin an angry comment to me calling me a monster: go outside. Hug a tree. Travel to your local zoo and ask if you can hug an elephant. I doubt you’ll be able to, but it couldn’t hurt to ask. While you’re hugging that elephant please give him my apologies that his great great great great uncle Hubert was killed to make my piano.

Or maybe you could take the five minutes you planned to use to yell at me and make a donation to the WWF, greenpeace, peta, or the save the poor baby elephants fund instead. It’d do so much more good.

Finally, if you’ve read all of this and see things from my view, thank you. If you still feel inclined to write to me and complain about the “senseless murder of elephants” know this: I will not engage you. I will not argue with you. I will not put you ramblings on my blog for other normal people to see. I will not even read what you have to say. I will simply hit the “delete” button.

This is all I have to say on the subject, and will ever have to say on the subject.

I wish you all, as always, the very best.

Brian