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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Memories of a Piano Technician (1): Dave Brubeck.

We prepped the Baldwin SD10 for Mr. Brubeck at Wildwood on three separate occasions - all during the 1990s. 

After his third concert he was reported to have said that the Wildwood SD10 was the best piano he had played during his entire career.  Not the best SD10, mind you. And not just any year. The best piano. That year. That performance.

Every other year or so, the Little Rock Baldwin dealer would sell the Wildwood SD10 and replaced it with a new one. Mr. Brubeck's "best piano" was purchased by an African-American Church in downtown Little Rock, where I believe it remains to this day.

What follows transpired during the last of the Wildwood concerts.

Time: 6:00 pm, one hour to show time.
Place: Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts. Little Rock, Arkansas.
Scene: Rehearsal for evening performance. Stuck on one song.

Wildwood: "Mr. Brubeck, the performance is at 7:00 p.m., and we usually open the house at 6:00 to let the audience in."
Brubeck: "We should be finished in a few minutes."
Wildwood: "Okay, we'll hold the house."
Brubeck to musicians: "Okay, let's try it again..."
Rehearsal continues.
Brubeck to musicians: "No, that's not right..."
Wildwood: "Mr. Brubeck, the show begins in 30 minutes."
Brubeck: "We just need a few more minutes."
Wildwood: "Okay."
Brubeck to musicians: "Lets try it this way..."
Rehearsal continues.
Brubeck to musicians: " No, that's still not it."
Wildwood: "Mr. Brubeck, the performance starts in 15 minutes. Folks are waiting to get in."
Brubeck: "Sorry. We just need a few more minutes."
Wildwood: "Okay."
Brubeck to musicians: "Let's do it again..."
Rehearsal continues.
Wildwood: "Mr. Brubeck, the performance starts in 5 minutes. The audience is still waiting."
Brubeck: "Sorry. We just need a few more minutes."
Wildwood: "Okay."
Rehearsal continues.
Brubeck to musicians: "That's better, but not quite..."
Wildwood: "Mr. Brubeck, it is 7:15."
Brubeck to musicians: "It will be a miracle if we get that one right!"
Wildwood to gate: "Okay, open the house."

(In memory of Dave Brubeck. December 6, 1920 – December 5, 2012)


Steinway Dealer ca.1960 Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

(The person in the foreground is unknown.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

First piano, ca.1959.

Rental. Brand unknown.

Memories of a Piano Technician (2) : Marvin Hamlisch.

We prepped a Baldwin SD10 for him at Wildwood/Little Rock, and a few years later, the Steinway D for his performance with the ASO. There were no problems at Wildwood. Completely understandable considering he appeared as pianist with singer. I forget her name.  However, with the ASO it was a different story. From the baton he threatened to walk out of the rehearsal at Robinson Center if the orchestra didn't get it right.  

They did. 

He remained.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Memories of a Piano Technician (3) : Misha Dichter.


Damper caught lingering for 1/2 second on a Steinway & Sons D! 

 Note to the tech left on the Steinway D after 
the first rehearsal of the Beethoven E-Flat Major.

2001-2002 Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  Misha Dichter.

  Portion of the program in the background.

There's much more to this story.


"Finding a good piano tuner-technician is impossible!" Or is it?

If you think that finding the right tuner or technician to service your piano (or to help you locate a good piano to buy) is no easy task, then take comfort in the fact that you're not alone. The search will often lead many to various Internet discussion forums,  as well as visits with relatives, friends and neighbors. Some will call a piano store, an independent piano tuner, and the list goes on. The results are usually many and varied.

Some will suggest -- as have I -- to call the local Piano Technicians Guild chapter and proceed from there. Others may suggest avoiding a particular local PTG person for either this reason or that. No doubt, some of the criticism is wholly justified; but competitive verbiage and claptrap is always present as well. The same holds true of criticisms directed toward non-PTG techs.

Whether or not a tech is a member of a professional guild or organization is no guarantee of quality work. Is one more likely to find a good tech in the PTG than throwing the dice in the Yellow Pages? Yes. At least the guild has mandatory multi-level testing to become an RPT. But it is only required one time.

I have always been a supporter of the recommendation. However, there are good recommendations as well as bad. For example, we have witnessed:

A piano dealer recommends a novice  to prep a S&S D for a major symphony orchestra. At the time, the best the person could do was terribly out-of-tune and not a clean unison anywhere.  Worse than a first time effort. Fortunately, that disaster-in-waiting was averted at the last minute.

A piano tech, due to over-scheduling, chose not to renew the tuning contract with a college. To avoid leaving the school in a lurch, he proposed another tech to do the work. Having never checked the person's tuning abilities, the recommendation rested wholly upon the proposed tech's longstanding RPT status.  After the first semester's tunings, the recommending tech received a call from a rather upset dean. Needless to say, the reputations of both techs were damaged in that little exercise.

A family recommends their tuner of 40 years.  The tuner spends 20 minutes tuning the piano and leaves. Not a unison is in tune.

Where does this leave a person who requires qualified service for the piano? Confused? You bet. But there is a solution.

I have consistently maintained that one of the best recommendations for piano service will come from concert or classical pianists who teach on a college or university level. This includes private piano teachers who have the appropriate degrees and classical background as well. 

But proceed with caution.

It may come as a surprise that a college music department may not always use the best piano technician. This is due to certain States requiring schools to go through a bidding process. Though there are exceptions, most of these colleges get stuck with cheap price and poor work to match. Notwithstanding,  teachers usually know the good from the mediocre. Accordingly, when seeking a recommendation, don't visit with the music department secretary. Seek out the teacher.

Final Analysis
Avoid any professional looking for a finders-fee. For good counsel locate and secure the services of  full-time, qualified,  professionals with absolutely no remunerative interest in your decision - whose sole desire is in extending to you the benefit of a sterling reputation for honesty, quality and acumen earned over many years of faithful service to the music community.

It won't be easy. Some may say it's impossible. It isn't. Just remember: "Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success."- Napoleon Hill


For more information:
What is an independent piano technician?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Piano Tuner's Boogie (Decca Records)

Winifred Atwell ‎– Piano Tuner's Boogie 


Decca ‎– F.10681


Shellac, 10", 78 RPM





The Invisible Piano Tuners - Technicians


With an upcoming piano competition fast approaching, an additional piano technician was called upon to help tune a few practice room pianos at a local college. Being the tech's first visit on campus,  Music Department Chair Sam gave him a quick tour. 

As they passed through the hallway, the tech peeked through a small window in a practice room door. "That’s Al, our concert tuner,"  Sam said. "He helps out in the practice rooms too.” 

 A few doors down, the tech looked through another window. “That’s Jane; she usually tunes our harpsichords, but we need her on the pianos this week." 

"In the next room is Mary, our regular tuner on payroll; many colleges cannot afford that," Sam said with prideful grin.

As they approach another door, the tech could hear the sound of octaves and intervals.  Sam placed his right hand over the window. With left forefinger to his lips he let out a slight -  “shhh” - as he passed quickly by. The tech hunkered down, following with all speed.  

Arriving at the end of the hallway, the tech asked:  "Who is that?"  "That’s Joe the RPT," Sam whispered.  "He thinks he’s the only tuner here."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Musical Coterie meeting photo, ca.1949


Recently discovered ca.1949 photo of a meeting of the Pine Bluff, Arkansas Musical Coterie. Seated second from the left is  Dr. Marcelline Giroir (Diplomate, École de Musique Ancienne, Paris). She  was my piano teacher from 1966-1970.