By Richard West, RPT
Retired head technician at University of Nebraska, Lincoln
When I took the staff piano technician position at the University of Nebraska, I decided right away that I needed to be active in a work-related professional organization—that being the Piano Technicians Guild, Inc. I had been a member when I worked privately, but I didn’t attend all that many meetings. But getting the university job changed my attitude toward PTG involvement, and that has made all the difference. Research, teaching/learning, and service are the three pillars of any university. These fit nicely with PTG and CAUT missions. The teaching/learning aspect took first place for me in the beginning. As it turned out, I had a lot to learn. I had to get pickier with regulation and tuning; I had to figure out how harpsichords and other early keyboards worked. There were inventory, record keeping, and budget issues that needed attention. I did a lot of that on my own. But I felt that I needed to give back, to share information with local technicians, and to open the university facilities for piano service related meetings. I discovered that by teaching and sharing information, I gained a lot in return. This service aspect became more significant for me over the years. As I worked with colleagues, I also found interesting research projects by technicians around the country. And over the years that research has borne fruit and continues to do so. All of these things improved my knowledge and skill. Why CAUT?
1. Technicians need to have some idea of what they’re getting into. We have a resource to help: the Guidelines for Effective Institutional Piano Maintenance. That came about through the efforts of CAUT.
2. There’s strength in sharing information. Communication among university technicians has exploded with internet growth and sophistication. In the early days the CAUT forum consisted of a few guys getting together at convention time. Now internet has opened up the forum worldwide. CAUT even has a microsite on the my.ptg.org site.
3. Experience should be shared. University work is a niche in the piano service business. College technicians more often deal with concert venues, an educated clientele, and unique political and interpersonal challenges. Sometimes just figuring things out works, but often asking for help is not only wise but can prevent problems before they arise.
4. Universities have high expectations, and meeting those expectations requires continuing education. What better way is there to learn than by sharing a meal with a fellow college technician or attending a class aimed specifically at university work?
What lies in CAUT’s future?
What lies in CAUT’s future?
A) Education: What core knowledge can be taught across the country, not just at the annual convention? Nationwide distribution/availability should be paramount since many technicians are not able to attend the convention annually or even regularly. Electronic communication should make more university-related information available. CAUT can be at the cutting edge because new technology is at the heart of what a college or university is doing.
B) Experience: High-level piano service is not unique to university technicians, but it certainly is paramount. CAUT has the experience, but that knowledge needs to be more widely available and shared more easily. There are many piano technology books, and they can be valuable. But nothing is more helpful than working side-by-side with proven technicians and programs. Universities can be centers of research and instruction in piano service.
C) Guidelines: It’s not only technicians who need to know what they’re doing. Setting work parameters and standards has been a long-standing goal of CAUT. But of equal importance is raising visibility and status in the eyes of administrators. Too often piano technicians are lumped together with other staff without real regard to the skill required to service expensive instruments that have high visibility both inside and outside of the university. Pay commensurate with skill should continue to be an issue that CAUT addresses regularly.
D) Testing: A CAUT credential is desirable and should continue to be discussed. There are many issues involved, including core curricula, nationwide availability, qualified (certified??) and experienced instructors and examiners, testing that is fair and objective (ETDs, for
example, can be problematic in that very fine measurements of less than .1 cent may not be reliable), test development, and paid examiners. A CAUT test seems far away, but not so far away as to be impossible.