How I got started

Anyone who works in a rather obscure field will be able to relate to the question “How did you get into that line of work?” I’m probably asked that on a weekly basis or more, but I don’t mind because I think my story is pretty good.

I’d like to begin with a little background on me which indirectly led to my work in the piano industry. I have been studying music for longer than my memories of early childhood allow me to recall. I’m fairly certain that I knew all the words to Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ by age 5 and definitely most of Billy Joel’s ‘Storm Front’ album by 7. I began trombone lessons in 4th grade and found a guitar sitting next to a dumpster in 6th but didn’t even touch a piano until late high school. It wouldn’t be until my junior year of college that I even thought seriously of playing piano, much less working in the industry.

At West Chester University, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in music composition, I heard Dr. Vincent Craig play Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata, only the first movement, for one of my theory classes (as I recall, a G-sharp was out of tune in the bass). I was so taken by the performance that I just had to learn it. So I practiced for 3 hours a day when I should have been working on my required voice lesson material. This led to me getting my first piano.

I paid 6 guys chicken parmesan to move a 110 year old upright into my second floor, off-campus apartment. Half the keys didn’t work and the ones that did sounded awful. My wife would also tell you how ugly it was in our living room. I started fixing it with the materials available to a poor college student – there were #2 pencils in place of broken hammer shanks and rubber bands doing the work of missing springs. The project earned the piano a new name, MacGyver.

At this point I had an ugly piano that “worked.” It wasn’t until the following semester where I developed an interest in tuning. The name of the course was “Music of the Spheres” led by Dr. Mark Rimple. I learned a lot about pitch and temperament theories dating back to Pythagoras and following a western evolution to what is common practice today. If the course is offered again you should make an effort to take it! If you can’t, you should buy his book, A Companion to Boethius in Middle Ages.

Unfortunately, I never tuned that first piano,  I will blog about the fate of that instrument another time.

Onto graduation and finding myself unemployed during the worst economic crisis for – blah blah blah. I took a job I knew I wouldn’t like as a teller in a bank. It paid the bills and I had the opportunity to begin teaching myself a trade. I practically prostituted my services at a rate less than half what I saw being offered by established technicians. Then finally, a stroke of luck! A local piano tech came in to make a deposit for his business.

“I’m trying to get into that business,” I said.

“I’m trying to get out,” was his response.

So for the next 4-5 months I apprenticed by working with Donn Young during time off from the bank and calling out sick. I left the bank to have more availability for my new passion. It has been about 6 years since then. We still work closely and I think he refuses to retire because he’d miss my company too much (just kidding, sometimes my sarcasm fails to transduce through writing).

And here I am.

How did you get into your field?

C.J.’s Pianos
Chris LaBarre
484-928-0222
http://cjspianos.com
cjspianos@cjspianos.com

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