I had a revelation while attending the Texas Music Educators Association conference a couple of weeks ago. I have had several deep conversations with friends and colleagues of mine, both private and collegiate piano teachers, about an apparent decline in private piano study among children, and more reluctance on the part of students and parents to "stick with" piano long enough to create the potential for a career. Obviously this is a HUGE topic which I have yet to explore fully, and most of my evidence is anecdotal at this point, but it seems clear to me that colleges are already beginning to see a decline in the number of qualified undergraduate pianists.
Regional factors, population shifts, and the existing reputation of a school all figure into this, of course, but it's also worth asking "what can we as a profession do to change this down the road?" Particularly in economically depressed and/or rural areas, piano study isn't seen as a worthwhile investment by families as it may have been a generation ago.
My revelation at TMEA came from interacting with teachers of group-piano labs in public schools. These labs provide an opportunity for basic piano study at no additional cost to families, and to a person each teacher I interacted with said that they are swamped with potential students (one man said he teaches seven periods of 20 students each!), and the collaborative, team-oriented nature of group pedagogy relates very well to these students.
Perhaps we "private" teachers should consider actively supporting and lobbying for these labs in our schools? Increasing the visibility of piano study by integrating it into the traditional educational structure would be a major step toward insuring that we will continue to train new generations of American pianists.
This is only the beginning of a LONG, searching conversation...all thoughts, comments, and debate are more than welcome.