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While studying for a B.M. Piano Performance degree at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, I approached the dean of the school of music to request a course on piano technology. I felt it was absurd that as piano majors we knew nothing about the piano as an instrument, nor were any courses offered to correct this shortcoming. And to make matters worse, it seemed the only information that my fellow colleagues or I had available to us were hearsay or bits and pieces of information. Some of this misinformation came from our professors who also never studied the field of piano technology. As a result, information from these various sources was contradictory and left me even all the more confused. Thus, I set out on a quest to know more and learn the truth about the piano as an instrument and the answer to the question that all pianists seem to ask most often, "What makes a Steinway such a great piano?"
What became of this request was my private study for 3 years with Dr. George Hines. This led me to a minor in Piano Technology, along with my major in Piano Performance. Dr. Hines, a physicist by training, instructed me through the theories of tuning, action design and scaling. In addition, I began developing the basic skills to perform on all aspects of tuning and piano technician's work. This foundational education laid the groundwork for all my subsequent studies. I lost track of Dr. Hines and discovered recently he died a few years back. I wish I could have thanked him personally for all that he gave me and share with him how his instruction lead to my life-time career.
After I finished my degree, I set up a teaching studio piano and performed weekend gigs. In addition, I also began working part-time at Gordon Keller Music tuning pianos on the floor, providing first time tunings for new piano customers, performing service calls for warranty issues and repairing trade-in pianos. After 2 years at this dealership, I went out on my own and have been in business full-time ever since. I dropped my teaching and performing career realizing the need to develop a better and more sustainable means of livelihood. As much as I loved music it became clear it was a profession that had a limited financial future. About the same time I married and we set about looking for a home for our future family and my business. I landed in Herndon, Virginia and have been there ever since.
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Piano Life Saver System:
I took it upon myself to further my education by joining the Piano Technicians Guild and the Master Piano Technicians of America. Through these organizations I have expanded my knowledge of all aspects of the piano through conferences and technical publications. To further my skills and experience I set up a shop and bought 2 older pianos - a grand and an upright - and proceeded to break every part of these instruments!
This situation allowed me the opportunity to learn and develop the skills, tools and processes to repair any part of the piano. This may all sound crazy, but I can profess that this adventure was the greatest education I have ever had in the field. It forced me to think through and learn all the skills I would need to work on any part of the piano, not to mention the realization of all the tools and jigs I needed to create. Plus, it gave me the overview and confidence to be able to take on any repair or problem with total confidence. Plus it provided me with the training to completely rebuild a piano from stem-to-stern.
To date, I have rebuilt or reconditioned 150+ pianos on my own. I work with a local friend who handles the finishing now, although I did do this refinishing work early on. I learned that finishing is a field and art in itself! I also work with a local piano mover to move pianos in and out of my rebuilding shop. I have performed 1000's of jobs in the home, for example repairing a bass bridge in an upright. Being able to do many major jobs in the client's home saves my client's the $500-600 in moving costs to and from my shop. But there are certain jobs that simply must be done in the shop where I have many standing woodworking tools, large specialized working tables and lighting, 100's of piano-related tools & hand-jigs and the space needed when the piano must be completely dismantled in order to perform major structural jobs. These types of jobs are messy, can create a tremendous amount of dust / debris and odors, and as such, cannot be performed in a home.
I have strived to go beyond just tuning and do a few repairs, and this has allowed me to see the piano in a very clear and broad manner. And yes, I now know why Steinway is such a great piano, but I also know why all pianos are what they are based on an understanding of various design issues. And further, I now know too, that there are even better pianos out there than Steinway, but in the end, the best piano for any given person is the piano they love. And that may well include the old spinet grandma gave to the family many years ago
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