In every industry, there are certain destinations or experiences that are considered so amazing and beneficial for people who work in that industry that they are considered a “pilgrimage” of sorts.
For a brewer, it might be visiting the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis; for an airplane mechanic it might be touring the Boeing plant in Seattle.
Last month, I (Ron Moore) got to experience something that might be considered a “pilgrimage” for piano technicians—a four-and-a-half-day training event held at the Steinway factory in Astoria, New York (in the Queens borough of New York City). Steinway started hand-making pianos at the factory in 1880 and continues to do so to this day. In a little bit of a departure from my usual blog post, I thought I’d share my experience in this month’s article.
The event was held from June 9th—13th and focused exclusively on concert level piano regulation, which is basically everything that happens in a piano from the time you press a key to the time you let up on a key. This includes things like jack placement in the window, blow distance, string leveling, etc.—all of which means nothing to 90% of the people reading this blog post, but trust me, if you are a piano technician this is very important stuff to understand—especially when you’re regulating concert pianos.
There is a big difference between regulating an ordinary piano in a house where the humidity is constantly changing and regulating a 9-ft Steinway grand piano in a concert hall that is going to be played by a professional performer who expects perfection.
In the latter instance, the piano needs to be regulated in very specific ways before every performance. By learning more about how to properly regulate a piano in that demanding situation, I can not only better serve concert halls and performance venues, but also all my regular piano tuning clients as well.
In addition to myself, there were only three other technicians in the class, so it was a very intimate experience. Each day, we would arrive at the Steinway factory and go straight up to our classroom on the 5th floor, where we spent the next 8 hours in class (except for the last day which ended at noon).
However, we weren’t just sitting at a desk listening to a lecture. We each had our own Steinway piano that we worked on throughout the class. We would learn about a specific technique, and then get the chance to immediately practice the technique on our piano. We would then be evaluated by the instructors and get feedback to help us improve.
Overall, it was an extremely valuable experience. One of the instructors was formerly assigned to the touch and tone regulation department of Steinway, and so he was able to tell us about some of the techniques used in the factory, which was very interesting.
Another great part of the trip completely unrelated to the class was that thanks to the fact that one of my classmates was a piano technician at Julliard, I got to take a private tour of the music school there. Founded in 1905, the Julliard School is one of the top institutions for training artists, dancers, and musicians from around the world, and getting to see it in person was pretty darn cool.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I was not able to take a tour of the Steinway factory, but I plan to do so in the future—I’m already planning three return trips over the course of the next few years for additional training sessions!