Concert piano tuner, Dorothy Young Center for the Arts
My only responsibility is the concert grand piano. It’s a Baldwin D. It’s the nine-foot, the biggest piano they make.
Concert pianos are tuned at least once per concert. In a busy concert venue, it’s not uncommon for a single piano to get between 100 and 200 tunings a year.
Piano technicians—it sounds like psychobabble—regard this instrument almost like a living organism.
Concert tuning is more than just tuning. It involves adjustments of tone and touch as well. With the average home piano, it’s a big enough challenge just getting the piano in reasonable tune. But concert pianos require much more.
The tuning is the adjusting of the spring tension, which is manipulating hundreds of tuning pins. There are 88 keys on a piano. A good percentage of them have three strings per note, so you’re manipulating more than 200 individual tuning pins.
I know David Finckel from summers at camp in Vermont. David and his wife, Wu Han, among the millions of things they do, are co-directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. We went out to dinner, and I said to David, “You wouldn’t believe what’s cropped up in your hometown of Madison. It’s not your typical college concert hall.”
David and Wu Han came out. David brought his cello. David called me afterward and said, “You weren’t kidding. I’d venture to say it is one of the top five halls in the country from an acoustical standpoint.” They immediately started talking to Drew about a concert series. Not only that, they’ve made some of their own recordings there.
I’ve had the good fortune to get to know so many wonderful people. I remember the first time I tuned for Bill and Judith Moyers. I had my head down, and Bill was standing in the entrance to the living room. And he said, “What a marvelous thing you do, take something that’s discordant and bring it into harmony.” We became friends, right there on the spot.
It’s kind of neat that in the year 2013 a guy like me comes around to people’s homes and concert halls with a little tool bag and works on something with a 300-year-old technology.—Christopher Hann