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A lifelong piano rhapsody

Stevan Godin is sitting at a grand piano placed on a slightly raised platform at the centre of his shop in Connaught Place. His eyes are shut and his nimble fingers deftly working the keyboard. Manoj Sharma reports.

delhi Updated: Sep 23, 2012 00:17 IST
Manoj Sharma

Stevan Godin is sitting at a grand piano placed on a slightly raised platform at the centre of his shop in Connaught Place. His eyes are shut and his nimble fingers deftly working the keyboard. A few of his clients and staff have gathered around him and are swaying to Elvis Presley’s Jail House Rock that Godin is playing. He is the affable owner of Godin Music in CP, perhaps the oldest piano dealer in the city.

The shop, where antique pianos are also repaired and restored, stands out for its old-world charm with its high ceiling and arches. It attracts scores of onlookers and visitors every day who regard it as a museum of musical instruments. But then, Godin Music, more popular as A Godin & Company, is no ordinary piano shop: it was established originally in Quetta, now in Pakistan, in 1920 by Celiano Godin. He came to Delhi in the 1940s and set up a piano shop in Kashmere Gate, which he shifted to CP in the next two years. “CP had by the early 1940s become the most happening place in the city, so my grandfather decided to shift the shop here,” says the 52-year-old Godin, who took over the business from Austin Godin, his father, in 1977.

For the past seven decades, the Godins have been the most famous piano dealers in the city. They have had Englishmen, top businessmen and royals as their clients. “We were also the piano tuners for Viceroy Lord Mountbatten,” says Godin, whose family is originally from Mapusa, Goa.

Before Independence, Englishmen, says Godin, would take pianos on rent from the shop at R2 a month. “We had a warehouse behind Regal Cinema where we would keep about 150 pianos to rent out. A new piano would cost about R5,000, which was a lot of money those days. So, English civil servants who served in India for not more than a couple of years preferred taking a piano on rent,” says Godin.

The piano’s popularity, he says, began to decline in the 1960s, forcing the shop to begin selling violins, guitars, saxophones and even Indian musical instruments. Piano sales, he says, were at an all-time low in the 1980s and ’90s. “Those were the years when we hardly sold a piano a month,” he says.

But Godin is glad that the piano is gaining popularity again. He now sells four-fives pianos a month. A German grand piano costs between R4.5 lakh and R8 lakh, while an upright one between R2.5 lakh and R4.5 lakh. “Upright pianos sell more as they require less space,” he says.

Piano buyers now include corporate honchos, businessmen and top professionals, though not all of them, he points out, can play the instrument. “For many of them, the piano is an item of interior decoration. Some of the buyers, however, can play it really well while some others are just learning. A lot of people in Delhi are also encouraging their children to learn how to play pianos,” says Godin. Foreign nationals constitute almost half of his clientele. “But they mostly buy Indian instruments such as tablas and sitars as souvenirs from their India sojourn,” he says.

Like in the 1940s, a lot of Delhi residents still take pianos on rent from the shop for events, including weddings and anniversaries. “We provide both the piano and the pianist for such occasions,” says Godin.

Besides, musicians such as AR Rahman and pianists like Brian Silas have taken pianos on rent from the shop for their performances in Delhi. The shop has also had some famous visitors, including Elton John, Richard Clayderman and The Beatles.

Godin has restored pianos of the rich and the famous, including that of Priyanka and Robert Vadra, Farooq Abdullah and the Maharaja of Jodhpur. “Youngsters are nowadays taking the initiative of restoring pianos bought by their fathers and grandfathers. Many pianos we restore are more than 100 years old.”

It takes between six months and a year to restore a piano. The process, he says, involves stripping an old piano part by part — sound board, strings, keyboard and body frame — and then repairing and assembling them. Procuring original parts of antique pianos is difficult, so he first tries to repair the original part, failing which he fabricates it. “What matters most in restoration is that the sound quality should not be affected. Besides, a piano's aesthetics should also be restored close to the original,” he says.

Godin’s three daughters and a son are all avid pianists. “They are all proud of our legacy and wish to carry it on, though we can make much more money simply by renting out our shop to a multinational,” says Godin, who lives in Hauz Khas with his family.

For the Godins, life has been an unending piano rhapsody.