Archive for November, 2011

A Piano That Can’t Be Tuned?

There are two thoughts that resonate in my brain when someone says “A tuner once said it couldn’t be tuned”.  The first thought is “hmmmm here’s a challenge” and my second thought is “lazy”.  Lazy?  Lazy??  Yep… you heard me.  I’ve run into this many times where a piano is so badly out of tune that tuners don’t want to bring it up to pitch.  Why? Because it will require multiple tunings and probably string breakage… the piano is usually old and frustrating to work on.  Au contraire pour moi.  I enjoy the challenge.  It’s kinda like washing your car when it’s really dirty and you have a better sense of satisfaction when you’re done cleaning it.  Tuning a piano that’s really out of tune is quite satisfying for me.  I find that i enjoy bringing it back to life – to the original sound that it was intended to make.  Y’see… individual notes are meant for a specific pitch.  The gauge of wire corresponds with the pitch of the note.  Subsequently, when a piano has slidden down terribly in pitch, it resembles sound more akin to a steamship than a piano!  This last week i had such a case.  The piano is called a Sterndale.  From outward cabinetry i would date this piano at about 1880-1890.  Though the name sounds English, directly below you’ll see the word “Berlin”.  I must say that Germany really is known for engineering and when i took a quick look at the inside structure, i thought that immediately that this piano has potential (contrary to the aforementioned words of “can’t be tuned”).  I put on my strobe to find out exactly how far down we’re talkin’.  UGH! 150-200 cents down! It beat my previous record of 110 cents down.  Just to give some perspective, a piano on average will slide between 3-5 cents per year… so… 200??? Exactly.  You do the math and think that this piano hasn’t been tuned in awhile.  In fact, inside i saw a tuner’s signature in 1923.  I laughed and thought… “y’know… this may have been the last time” hahaa.  Anyway… 3 tunings later and one broken string and VOILA! The metamorphosis happened! This turned into my second favorite old piano (first being an old Steinway i tune regularly).  Tightening down flange screws, taking out lost motion, adjusting front pins and damper heads and i must say…  what an incredible instrument.  So the next time you hear those words “Can’t be tuned”… think again.  It’s amazing what a little time and TLC can do.

Should Piano Tuners be Piano Players?

Is it necessary that a piano tuner know how to get around on the piano? No.  Piano tuners can competantly tune an instrument one note at a time.  HOWEVER, that said, it is an INCREDIBLE asset to know how to play to CHECK the tuning.  My background is in performance and teaching.  I started tuning only about 10 years ago.  When i first started tuning i would then play a favourite song and say to myself “BLECH… this is TERRIBLE!” hahaaa.  Then off i would go fixing what sounded ‘out’.  For a brief period in college i studied ancient Greek language.  The first 3 rules of interpretation are… context, context, context.  Similarly when tuning, the context of a note within a chord reveal pitch.  I’ve spoken about how some notes on certain pianos don’t sound ‘right’ and you can alter them to sound more…mmmm soothing instead of jarring or clashing.  And the way in which you tell if a piano sounds in tune is from playing a song, an arpeggio, a chord or melody.  So is it necessary to play if you’re a tuner? Absolutely not.  Anyone can play 2 notes at a time.  But is imperative to check the tuning?  Absolutely.

Piano Stage Fright

Recently i was having this discussion with a few friends.  Some think i’m crazy while others relate COMPLETELY.  This is Glen’s theory of stage fright. I believe that i get nervous 100% divided by the amount of players on stage.  So… if there are 5 of us on stage, 100/5 = 20%.  Yep. I get only a tingle of nervousness.  If however, i’m doing a duet, 100/2 = 50%… i get a bit more of the jitters.  If i’m going solo i carry 100%.  Stands to reason right? If i’m in a 100 voice choir, i hardly get nervous at all… maybe 1%.  See where i’m going with this? Actually… to be honest… hahaa i’m not going anywhere with this.  This is just something i’ve noticed in myself over the years.  About 20 years ago now i read a book called the Inner Game of Music.  He asks the question “If you were to play a simple song like… happy birthday on the piano, would you get nervous?  What about if you were to play the same song in front of thousands in a concert hall.  Would you then be nervous? What changed?  The song is the same and yet somehow we become more frightened at the thought of playing in front of other people.  He then suggests:

Performance = our maximum potential – internal distractions

Our performance equals our very best less any internal head games and distractions.  As teachers we push push push maximum output… we push skills, technique, repertoire.  In the book he wrote, “Why not also minimize distractions?” Huh. Interesting.  I’ve had very little time over the years being taught to perform… to analyze the stage… with the exception of Thomas Manshart.  He said “You need to OWN the stage.  You have been given the opportunity to interact with an audience… quite possibly to shock them, to make them pay attention to beauty… to sit at the edge of their seats.”  I believe that often as performers we are battling our wits than we are owning the stage – thinking about what we are communicating.  A retired concert pianist here in town doesn’t believe in recorded music.  Hahaa he calls it “information sound”.  “Truly” he told me once “music is a moment in time where you, as a performer interact with an audience… something recordings will never do”.  Interesting.  OK i’m blathering on now but i find i do find the concept of performance interesting… a topic we barely give air time to.

Piano Book Contest Winners

Congratulations to the 6 winners from the PianoHQ.com contest!  The contest ran from July 1 until October 31st, 2011.  Each contestant was given a free song from the PianoHQ repertoire.  They then learned the song, recorded it and mailed it back.  The prize? A pianoHQ book of their choice. The winners in no specific order are:

Joan from Dubuque, Iowa   *    Mia from Reston, Virginia   *   Xingqi from Branford, Connecticut

Nikolle from Manassas, Virginia   *   Nathan from Halifax, Nova Scotia   *   Lucas from Oak Hill, Virginia

It was GREAT fun listening to all of the contestants.  Everyone who participated but didn’t win also received 2 more free songs.  Thanks for making this such a delight.  Let’s do it again k?

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