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CAUT Forum follow-up

  • 1.  CAUT Forum follow-up

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 07-18-2019 12:46
    Greetings Fellows CAUTs!

    First, I wanted to praise Mike Reiter, RPT, for his excellent leadership in moderating the CAUT Forum at this year's National Convention. He was well organized in advance, and did a great job of keeping us on-task while ensuring that we heard form as many different voices as possible.

    Also, I would like to clarify a point I made. It had to do with what happens at my school when I am not notified sufficiently in advance about a concert tuning. When I stated that they are not allowed to use a piano, Mike observed that such an approach was "hard." Now, I have no objection whatsoever to being known for being tough, but that is not the only reason for this approach. When a concert happens, there is the live audience at the venue, a live audience online, and then there is the eventual online audience in perpetuity. The school's reputation--as well as my own reputation--is on the line in all of those instances. Disclaimers such as, "They didn't let the piano tech. know in time that they needed a tuning" simply do not exist. Besides (and perhaps more importantly), it is educationally remiss to mislead students into thinking that such poor planning and bad communication will fly in the professional world. The more of their generative failure that they can experience while still in the relatively loving embrace of their school, the better they will fare in the world beyond the ivory towers.


    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA

  • 2.  RE: CAUT Forum follow-up

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 07-19-2019 07:21
    Alan, thanks for writing this. As one of the many CAUTs who are in a "more work than time" situation, I believe (and have told my admins from the time I interviewed for the job nearly nine years ago) that the best way to prioritize the time I have to spend is by taking care of the pianos that comprise the public "face" of the School of Music first. I have yet to encounter an objection to this strategy.

    David Dunn, RPT
    Piano Maintenance Technician and Coordinator
    UNI School of Music – RSL 190
    Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0246

  • 3.  RE: CAUT Forum follow-up

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 07-19-2019 10:22
    I'm going to offer a different perspective, from a lower level state institution with a higher workload. I agree about the recital hall being the public face of the institution, but I do not tune for every student recital. I tune for all faculty and guest recitals, and when I do so, I tune both our concert instruments. When two weeks go by between those tunings, I will check and touch up, and will do so once a week during heavy recital times, like end of spring semester. This protocol has served us satisfactorily for years with next to no problems. The key here is stable tuning technique, built up over years of following myself. 

    Also, I long since abandoned the notion of waiting until someone asked me to tune in favor of being proactive. I simply look at the hall calendar before the beginning of each semester and pencil in tunings. Every week or so I check the calendar again, to spot changes. I find this far less time consuming and stressful than dealing with last minute requests, and resenting the fact that I am not on the top of everyone's list in terms of priority when they are planning and preparing a concert. 

    I'm not arguing against a tuning for every recital, or trying to teach students and faculty to plan and be responsible, but in my situation it is far better to spread my time over the whole inventory. I try not to let any piano become painfully bad, spreading what pain there is in as even and rational a way as I can. My faculty and students seem to appreciate the results.

  • 4.  RE: CAUT Forum follow-up

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 07-23-2019 07:03
    My situation is similar to Fred's with one difference.  I have time strictly enforced in the main recital hall to tune (with needed minor adjustments) once a week.  Faculty, guest, and major event tunings are easily seen on the schedule well in advance.  Those events have tuning time scheduled well in advance.  No surprises with this system and the piano stays very nicely usable with a solid tuning done once a week.

    Limited time.

    Tim Coates
    Sioux Falls SD

  • 5.  RE: CAUT Forum follow-up

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 07-23-2019 10:17
    I think it is obvious to all of us that stability is THE key tuning skill needed in the CAUT environment. (It's needed elsewhere as well, but you can get by with less than stellar chops in the home tuning world and never know it). Which raises the question of how to vet a candidate for a position. The resume and references may or may not give evidence worth relying on.

    I guess if you have candidates visiting, you could have them tune, but how would you set it up? Do a semi-chaotic (not extreme) detuning, have them tune, then challenge the tuning? What about other skills like regulation and voicing?

    I'm looking for practical advice from someone who has been through the process, in hopes of helping to hire a successful replacement.

  • 6.  RE: CAUT Forum follow-up

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 07-23-2019 11:05


    Interesting discussion.  I don't expect this is a great revelation, but what I did and seemed to be effective, was to ask the candidate to evaluate the particular piano they are tuning for their audition. Obviously there isn't time for a trial of the whole process, but their evaluation will tell you a lot.  Ask them, "If suddenly the schedule allows you to spend another hour on this piano what exactly would you choose to do with that time to make the most improvement? What longer term recommendations do you have regarding this piano, or it is actually in need of nothing at this time?"  Since we know each piano so well that is an easy way to quickly rate a candidates overall ability to effectively trouble shoot and manage their time.  If you have time to test more of their actual work that is great, but you may not want to release that kind of freedom on the audition piano either.  We didn't.  

    I also agree with previous comments on this subject.  There is not one formula that is going to work for all of us and we each have to figure it out.  I wouldn't have the authority here to actually cancel use of a piano on a recital due to lack of timely information about it, but I could specify which piano in most situations. That has been my issue.  I don't tune both pianos for every recital and we have a policy for which one is appropriate for specific events, but sometimes they deviate from that policy without letting me know.  No one else ever complains about it, but if you've had that feeling of seeing the piano you prepped sitting backstage and covered the morning after, while the other one is on stage with programs from the night before, you know what I'm talking about it.   Life goes on. 

    Dennis Johnson, R.P.T.
    Piano Technician
    Music Dept.
    St. Olaf College

  • 7.  RE: CAUT Forum follow-up

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 07-23-2019 12:45

    When I applied to U of O they had me tune three instruments.  One was the premier choice of most of the players in the hall, one was a very used (up?) Steinway A in a practice room and the double manual harpsichord.

    The hall piano was a very nice Hamburg D.  I had 1.5 hours to tune and do a cursory evaluation.  I agree that stability of the tuning is paramount to many discussions.  We of course test for this on the tuning exam but in the real world how does it translate.  If the hiring committee is smart they would also check for stability after a few days or a week or more to see if one's work has survived the test of time.  They surely will have other candidates to work with and if there is a second or third piano available they can then use the other instruments with the same criteria for the others applying for the position.  It suddenly becomes a real world experience.

    The amusing part for my application/audition was they had another technician prep the piano mechanically before I arrived.  They missed a couple of points that I found during the audition.  I can't know whether it was a trap or not but it was noticed.  (Stripped capstan screw resulting in a disrupted hammer line)  The other was a loose stack screw resulting in monumental clicking in the bass section.

    The practice piano was at least 6-7 cents flat so that one was a rush.  They were absolutely shocked at the amount of were after only 10 years of play.  The piano has since received new hammers and we go on with life.

    The harpsichord was tuned to a non-equal temperament, also part of the test/audition.


    Michael Reiter
    Eugene OR

  • 8.  RE: CAUT Forum follow-up

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 07-23-2019 00:27

    Thank you so much for the kind words.  Much appreciated.

    The Forum provides us an important discussion space that we would not otherwise have.  It's also a time for creative thoughts and expressing concerns about our own jobs as well as other.  The "hard" comment was more emotional than practical as far as consideration goes.  I know that we all have had occasions where we have had short or no notice for concert prep.  It's clearly maddening in that we work so hard to preserve the "face of the institution" not to mention our own reps only to have it potentially torpedoed by other's neglect.  I would suggest that most institutional technicians take care of the performance pianos in such a way that if they are not tuned on the day of the performance that it would be at the very least close to acceptable.  I feel strongly that if we are not at that level we are short of our performing piano goals.  At the U of Oregon we have a climate controlled storage and performance space which reduces the amount of drift from day to day and performance to performance.  It still cannot account for any damage such as a broken string from event to event.

    Also, thanks for a most insightful class on Hiring Shop Help.  There were many important points that you brought up that I had not considered.

    Michael Reiter
    Eugene OR