Thursday, June 05, 2008

Tune Your Own Piano

I now have a new little project set up for myself when I return in August courtesy of our high school English teacher. She wanted a piano moved out of her classroom to make a little extra room and I decided to stick it in my class. I got a couple high school students to haul it over to my class on a trolley this afternoon. I'm not sure exactly how old it is but considering how remote we are, its in pretty good shape. Its not the most northern upright on the planet but I know its definitely high up on the list. I gave it a quick inspection. The cabinetry is sound despite a few scuff marks, the sound board looks good, the felts and hammers looked in remarkably good shape considering how much wear and tear I know school pianos can suffer.

Most schools have at least one old upright piano and we are no exception. For the most part, the piano languished in the English classroom, to be played on by a few students with basic keyboard skills. I've tried my hand at it myself when I have a free moment. (Boy, I need to work on my technique.) I pulled out one of my old piano books at the end of the day and tickled the ivories for a few minutes. Sadly, I don't get the opportunity to play as much as I'd like and this lack of practice really showed. I majored in piano in university but in the past 5-6 years my chances to sit down and bang out a few tunes have become fewer and far between.

I hope to change this next year now that I have the piano in my class. One of the first things that struck me was how out of tune the poor thing is. I'm betting that piano hasn't been tuned since the day it moved into the school. It may be a refugee from the former community out at Nanisivik. I have no idea. All I know for certain is that when 2 adjacent notes in the upper register produce pretty much the same sound, you know you have a problem. So I pontificated a bit about it when I got home from work. What to do? What to do? Occasionally in the past, when staff hear I used to play the piano I get the old, "Maybe you can tune it and whip it into shape" spiel. I always took a pass at this. I am somewhat tone deaf and really, I always figured tuning it myself without the proper equipment to do so would be an exercise in futility.

Hiring a professional tuner would be out of the question since just getting some one up here to do the work would run a good $3000 at least just to fly the person up here. Obviously this is no solution. I've dealt with many out of tune pianos over the years. I've just accepted it as a part of life. There is something sadly nostalgic about an old out of tune piano. It reminds me of my old piano growing up (a refugee from the hockey arena that my stepfather brought home in the early 1980's).

I played a little Beethoven on that old piano this afternoon (portions of his Sonata in G, opus 49, no. 2, for the curious). As I butchered my way through it I couldn't help wondering if I could fix up the sound. I did a quick on-line search once I got home which led to a site where you can purchase piano tuning kits and I decided to bite. I figured spending $130USD out of pocket and having a chance for a better sound was better than blissfully hoping my employer would fork out a good $4000. And so, I now have a tuning kit that should be here when I return in August. I'm interested to see what I can accomplish. I don't think it will take me too long to fix the tuning on this piano, a weekend or two perhaps. We have a second piano in the staff room in much worse shape (and which at the moment serves as a repository for plants, books and coats.....grrr) I'd like to resuscitate as well.

So if you find yourself in Arctic Bay on a cold winters night and hear wisps of Beethoven or Bach carried over the'll know I fared not too badly.....maybe the start of a second career here.


Kiggavik said...

Not a bad second career Darcy. I have fond memories of the visits of the itinerant piano tuner to our home. The fellow(s) would always tune the piano and afterwards would always play some tunes. It was always great entertainment, both watching the tuning process and the mini concert afterwards.