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Piano tuner’s in key with instruments

There's more to tuning a piano then meets the ear

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Every piano has its secrets and stories to tell. That’s why piano tuner Artie Doran is never surprised to find mice nests, cell phones, wedding rings, $100 bills – and every once in a while, an Indian head nickel. “Life goes on around the piano,” said Doran, who estimates he’s tuned over 40,000 pianos, including pre-performance tunings for players like Tony Bennett, Carol King, Herbie Hancock, and Tori Amos. Doran spoke to Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene about the life of a piano tuner.

There are over 10 thousand parts in a piano and roughly 230 strings. Things break, wear, or become misaligned – and not just the keyboard but also the pedal, and even the bench. Some of the most important things that I might work may have nothing to do with tuning. The dominant piano brand in this area is Yamaha and after that it runs the gamut to Steinway, Baldwin and even some exotic instruments like Bösendorfer from Vienna. Tuning a piano is not like fixing a copier – what I do affects people on a very deep emotional level. I tuned a piano the other day, played to test it out, and when I was done, I turned and my client had tears in his eyes. There are so many memories wrapped up in a piano. It’s a good day for me if I can touch someone to level that it makes them cry. I often play a song I composed called ‘Letting Go that I wrote to play at my mother’s memorial service. Both my parents were musicians, and my mother was a professional pianist. When I was just 16 years old, she helped me go to a school to learn how to tune the piano. I’ve been doing it for four decades ever since. I like to play ‘Letting Go’ because it lets my mother know that I’m still doing what she helped me to do.

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