After another few hours last night I managed to polish Yuri's capstans down through F57. (Yuri, as some of you may remember, is a 1908 Stieff grand piano.) Another sixteen keys and only 56 more to go! The corrosion on the top creates extra friction making the keys less responsive to the pianist's touch. So, technically there's no reason to polish anything more than the top of the capstan since it's the only part that touches the action, But there's something aesthetically pleasing to me to see the brass gleaming against the deep wood tones of Yuri's hundred year old keys.
Looking at my efforts from a purely functional viewpoint, it's a waste of time to polish the entire capstan. In fact, once the keys and action are reinstalled, the next person who sees them (probably corroded once again) will be a piano technician 20 years from now called in to make the next set of repairs on Yuri. Yet, there's a part of me that believes Yuri's touch and tone will be that much sweeter because of the extra care I'm giving him now. Irrational, I know; but this is a labor of love after all.
Finishing up the capstan polishing project will probably take the rest of this evening after work and most of tomorrow. If there's time left I'll rebuild the one key destroyed by termites A#86; then move on to cleaning the keytops. I'm hopeful the job done in 1948, which replaced the keytops, will have stood the test of time and I won't have to replace them this time around. It looks as if it was an excellent job; but with all the dirt of the last few years of neglect, I won't know until they are cleaned and polished. That will be another week's labor of love; but at least one more visible.
In the meantime, I keep getting requests for tunings. One, especially has me scared nearly witless.
About 3 weeks ago I tuned a friend's 7' Steinway and his mother's 7' Yamaha, both amazing instruments, and both in need of tuning. He's a professional singer with a very exacting ear. He said he'd tried dozens of tuners over the years and these were among the best tunings he'd ever had. Stroke, stroke. Well, he got it into his head to call the artistic director for Seraphic Fire, which is doing the premiere of their next world tour as a benefit in Marathon on November 3rd at Saint Pablo's. He arranged for me to do two concert tunings, one two days before the concert, the other the day of the concert. We're talking world class musicians here! I should have said 'no' but didn't.
Then last Saturday I had my first less-than-adequate tuning for another professional musician (also with an exacting ear), the pianist at Old Stone and the Keys Chorale's new accompanist. When I left Saturday, he played for a half-hour and declared his 6' Yamaha wonderful. Then I saw him at chorale on Tuesday and there was -- well, a look -- that said something was amiss. I asked how the tuning was holding and he went on at length before the rehearsal started about how it wasn't! Obviously, I couldn't sleep that night. And went over on Thursday to see what I'd done wrong.
He was, in fact, correct. About six or seven notes hadn't held and some unisons had decayed. I don't know if it was the weather (torrential downpours from hurricane Paula's bands) or something I'd done; but I decided to give him his money back. Normally, I would have offered to redo it on the spot; but he has a friend who's been tuning for Steinway for 30 years visiting for the weekend -- better to let him correct the situation and part, hopefully, good company.
The point of all this is to say, his accurate assessment of my work was important feedback to get -- especially before the Seraphic Fire concert. Up until now, the tunings have been pretty great. But for whatever reason, it didn't hold. It was a wake up call to remind me that I'm still a beginner and need to keep working on the craft. On the other hand, if I mess up the Petrof grand at St. Pablo's I might as well move to the Australian bush before I get another tuning job in the Keys. It'll either make or break my reputation. No pressure -- it's just a career!
So, this week I cashed in my remaining savings, asked for vacation pay instead of taking time off this year and purchased a Sanderson Accu Tuner www.accu-tuner.com . It's due to arrive next Tuesday so I'll have an opportunity to practice with it on a couple of other instruments before I take on the Petrof being used by Seraphic Fire.
It's a pretty amazing device -- it doesn't tune for you; but hears the harmonics throughout the entire instrument and helps you correct the temperament that's specific for that individual piano. Essentially, it gives you the kind of feedback you'd get if you were sitting at the side of master technician who's been doing tunings for decades.
In fact, that's what it is...the ear of a master. Paul Sanderson, was the chairman of the physics department at Harvard in the 70s with a specialty in sound and a love of pianos. He started building the device in the 80s, using both his ear for the 'art' of the feedback and his knowledge of physics and sound waves to turn it into a set of algorithims for a computer program. It's now in its fourth generation -- the latest just having just come on the market in late 2008.
With that thought in mind and a SAT IV arrival eminent early next week, I'm putting aside my fears of Seraphic Fire. Today, after work, I'll plan to put in some productive hours with Yuri to polish another sixteen capstans.
What do you get? I'm not sure; but there is a certain satisfaction in the process.