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Monday, 21 May 2012

Tuner or Magician?

Tuners are often asked to work some kind of magic on an unpromising piano for a concert. It is surprising pianists don't complain about the condition of the piano they have to play! Perhaps they do - but after the event it's too late for anything to be done about it.

This kind of thing should not happen: 

A celebrity singer and her accompanist felt the piano they were given to use was not up to scratch. So, at very short notice, the tuner was given 30 minutes to work some kind of miracle with a woefully out-of-tune piano. 

Or, for a New Year's Eve event - a Piano Concerto, complete with orchestra... The piano was to arrive 28 December but could not be unpacked until New Year's Eve itself, and the tuner given one hour to tune it for the concert!

A major American comes to town with his band and entourage but need a local tuner to prepare the piano. The day before the gig, organisers ring for a tuner and reckon the job could be done in 45 minutes.

Why should this kind of thing not happen? Surely, anyone who puts on events like these should have some appreciation of what is involved in preparing a piano for a fully professional concert. Serious tuning is not a 45 minute magic trick.

We live in an age when an instant response is expected for any request. In this respect, the piano does not belong in our modern 'instant-fix' world. Every piano is unique, does not like rapid changes of environment, and even worse, every piano takes its own time to settle down. A pianist taking their own piano on tour has to accept a less than perfectly tuned piano - unless proper arrangements are made well in advance.

Hiring in a piano is not easy when there is little choice and/or limited funds, but who really wants to pay good money to hear good artists doing battle with an inadequate instrument? 

The Tuner's Blues

I woke up this morning 
with an ache in my head,
nothin' about tuning
but about what they said:

"Tomorrow is Monday 
and we want you to tune
an old, beat-up Steinway
we're using at noon..."

"…shouldn't be no problem,
but the van's just broke down
- when I last spoke to them,
they were drinking in town…"

Best case scenario:
they'll arrive a bit late,
bring in the piano

expect me to tune it
in twenty-five minutes,
ask me to hurry it
and complain if it whines.

There, at the piano,
if I played what I choose,
I'd give them a solo,
and I'd play them the blues!


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