Pianos, push-bikes and problematic palms

Music is stalking me at every turn. Bicycling home from another ubiquitous (but I love 'em!) CBD or Casino precinct event piano hire tuning, I could not help noticing this pedestrian's striking tattoos as I spiralled up onto the Anzac Bridge cycleway. I rode on ahead a little, stopped and benignly faffed about with my bags, then stealthily papped him as he walked by. If I had been more in learn-to-engage-with-subjects street photographer mode, I would have paid him compliments, and learned of his inspiration, and the source of his notation. Instead, I noted bass left, treble right - makes sense to me as a piano tuner. 

My strategy with myriad nomadic pianos on the event hire piano circuit is to document their serial numbers. This helps me keep track of where and when I may have met this piano last, which reminds me of that circumstance, the state of piano and what I did with the tuning on that occasion. It also assists the memory if there are other issues with the piano (I need to remember which piano I'm whingeing about). Usually I delete the hasty snaps as soon as I have recorded the serial numbers in my notes, but sometimes they seem artful enough to live on - in blog form.

Oh, little 635, you were a pleasant surprise - new enough not to have annoying surface rust on your strings, yet not so new that you're like an as-yet-untrained puppy who just won't heel, sit nor lie down! 

When I arrived, little 635 was waiting in a relatively protected (yet still outdoors!) courtyard underneath the piano carriers' doona (duvet) its 'horse blanket' if you will. The organiser explained they had the cover on because they were trying to keep what was planned low-key, understated, secret. 'It still looks like a piano, lady', I thought. I explained that it would be impossible for me to be covert and discreet as I tuned. 

In reality, the horse blanket was part of the kit because after the function, little 635 had to spend the night, alone, outdoors, before being picked up. At least, like horses, pianos can sleep standing up.

Returning to my bicycle after tending a city piano, I found it inexorably trapped. The truck had not been there when I parked. Not easily documented in the photo, but buttressed up behind the rear wheel of my trusty milk-crate steed was a permanent news stand, its little Asian proprietor assiduously sweeping pollution from the publications with a feather duster. With that delicate feather-touch, perhaps she might be deployed cleaning a grand piano's dusty soundboard. I made a right mess of the witches' hats (with horizontal plastic adjoining beams) extricating my bike. I didn't even tidy up either, bugger it. I'm lawless in this nanny-state (she said, cautiously).  

Here's a quite neat and welcoming cycle parking area, directly opposite the Casino. A plethora of additional restaurants and function rooms occupy the various little piers. The event hire pianos like to visit, and therefore, so do I.

A wider shot of the parking area. My steed is loaded up ready for departure. On an event tuning excursion, I have my backpack (which I usually wear, unless the heat is beyond stinking). In the milk-crate I have a laptop bag filled with additional piano tools and materials. The yellow bag is for bike (and other) paraphernalia. I'm not travelling the amount of tools that many do (and I may take more when I have the car) but since I 'know' the general nature of the event pianos, it has been a reasonable strategy (so far!) Look that flimsy basket on the pink pushie behind mine... that wouldn't hold my tool bag, or would it? I managed with just such a basket on Lord Howe Island

Oooh, the piano truck has some unusual cargo. I'm used to seeing the various grand pianos that do the corporate rounds. 'So what have we here then?', I ask. 'A load for the tip.', I'm told.

One of the carriers tells me he likes the little one, it sounds nice, an overdamper. 'Well, why don't you take it home?' 'It makes him angry when I do that.', he quips, referring to the other carrier. 

The reality is that many pianos of this generation, easily 100 years old, are very much at the end of their practical working lives, past their use-by date. As MACHINES of wood, felt, metal, cloth, cardboard and paper, they're likely to be travelling well (in a qualified sense) ONLY in exceptional circumstances. The same could be said of a 100-year-old person. Alternatively, there may have been much replacing of action (and other) parts and materials inside - think old car, new engine, big bikkies.

I love encountering the piano carriers. I can follow the piano to its destination (in large venues with many reception and function rooms, this is handy). I can help (in small, girly ways... carry piano legs, stool, pedal lyre, open doors, move obstacles). And, often most importantly, I can get at the piano as soon as it is in position. Generally the environment only gets noisier as the preparations continue. Often stress levels rise as time constraints put pressure on all. I usually aim to arrive at the top of the stated 'delivery window'. If I have to wait (often) I always have some sort of homework to do, so that never bothers me.

More city shenanigans. This time a Steinway O. I call it a 'Steinway Zero' - nothing against Steinway, I just like wordplay. I find that the microphone leads are gaffed to the rear of the music rest, so I must carefully peel off the tape, make little inside-out loops, and place the kaboodle beyond the strings. The music rest must be removed to access the tuning pins.

Not too much of a bother on a relatively quiet early morning. I'm loving my First World Problems! Sometimes the microphone infrastructure placed in stage pianos is a lot more rustic, ensconced, with metres of gaff adorning the piano's beautifully gold-painted cast-iron frame, threatening to pull the lot off on removal. This was quite a natty clip-on rig that permitted the piano lid to be comfortably on the short stick. I'm considerate, and not in a rush, I re-attach the leads to the music rest at the end of the job.

I resorted to some very gauche gaffing myself recently. I had forgotten to transfer one tiny lead for my clip-on radio microphone and receiver kit. I found myself attaching a borrowed mic to the inside of my tuba bell to get by. I cushioned underneath the microphone with copious tissues to ensure there were no extraneous vibrations. Silver plating is more robust than lacquer, another benefit. Crude, but effective.

My view from the piano. Time to document an unfortunate struggle as a corporate palm tree gets entwined in the livery of a chandelier that was just minding its own business. Oh, my - First World Problems!

It can be very pleasant tending a piano that is very regularly tuned, has not been relocated, has not spent the night outside under a horse blanket. It's like tidying a room that is already in good order - just a few things here and there to straighten out and move, then make sure that everything is spick, span and sparkling. 

How about the scissor lift that beeps a repeated C on ascent, descent, or move? Quite bearable, because once again, when in position, this chap's fussy gussying of curtains was no audible bother at all. Power drills and hammers were out and about, but never constantly. 


Did you know that Steinway and Sons began their business making gumboots? No, wait, that was Nokia. 

Two of the world's greatest and most recognisable names side by side. Often my phone is up in the treble bit (until I get to tuning up there). It is my clock, for time-management as I tune. 

Update: That was then, this is now. I've succumbed to the smartphone craze - oh, the iRony! My Nokia is still my alarm clock.

Other adventures:

Pianos: Bah Humbug!