Battle of the Piano Tuning

img_0326-1 The fight was defined. My goal was to create a beautiful tuning. His goal was to destroy it. It was the winter of 2014. I was the piano tech at Harper College in Palatine. The visiting Steinway artist practiced for an hour before the concert. When he finished practicing I went to meet him and I asked him if the piano was satisfactory and if he had any requests regarding its preparation. He had three requests. #1 He had knocked one of the notes way out of tune- so tune it. #2 One of the notes was too soft and could I make it louder. #3 There was a clicking noise in the top octave. I had about 30 minutes before he would be back and the concert would begin soon after. I first attacked the badly out of tune note and I used every trick I knew to try to make it stable. I then discovered the click sound was a loose hammer head and I re-glued it. Lastly, I filed the soft hammer –this makes the surface harder and creates a louder tone.

The artist had stepped out for a quick bite to eat. When he came back he checked the piano – problems 1, 2 & 3. They were fine. He said “Lovely”. Then he informed me that the pieces that he was performing that night required, shall we say, very forceful playing. He was playing Rachmaninoff as well as some other Russian composers. In other words he planned to knock the Hell out of that piano. But he promised that the first piece he played would be gentler and less taxing on the tuning.

He began the evening by talking to the audience about the pieces he was going to perform. Then in illustration, he hit a couple of chords on the piano with such force I thought the soundboard would crack. “Liar, I shouted” (in my mind) “You promised to start out gently.” And “There goes my tuning.” He then played his gentle piece. Miraculously the tuning had held. He proceeded to some of the more vigorous pieces. At half time I went up to check the tuning. Ha!! It was still in tune. I was winning.

The second half he came out an attacked the piano with such force that the bench he sat on moved. His backside literately lifted off the piano bench when he struck the chords. Still the tuning held— until the last piece when I heard some wavering of tone. I went up to check the piano after the concert, and he had succeeded in knocking it out. But it took him most of his repertoire to do it. I claimed a moral victory and lived to tune another day.