Future Reflections          Convention Report 2007

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Piano Tuning: A Good Career that Doesn’t Require a College Degree

by Albert Sanchez

Editor’s Note: The following remarks were prepared for one of the fourteen parent seminar breakout sessions on Saturday afternoon.

Albert Sanchez and his wife, GeraldineBefore I begin my prepared remarks I would like to take a minute to thank NOPBC President Barbara Cheadle for coming up with the idea of this panel. As an active member of her local NFB chapter she has had the benefit of meeting and learning from many of this nation’s blind adults. Some of these same blind adults were role models for her son Charles as he was growing up. Now, as a blind adult himself, he has learned that it is, as we say in the Federation, “respectable to be blind.” I strongly encourage you parents to seek out and become active in your local NFB chapter; both you and your children, blind and sighted alike, will benefit greatly from the experience.

The agenda says that the title of this panel is: “Academics aren’t everything: Good careers that don’t require a college degree.” The career path that I have chosen is tuning and repairing pianos. In January of 1984 I began the two-year course of study at the Emil Fries Piano Hospital and Training Center, located in Vancouver, Washington, now known as the School of Piano Technology for the Blind. This school has, since 1949, been training blind persons in the highly technical and precision craft of piano tuning, repairing, and rebuilding. All of the school’s instructors, including its founder, Emil Fries, have been blind. Upon completion of the course-requirements I was, in June of 1985, given a certificate of graduation. I have, since that time, operated two successful piano-servicing businesses; the first in Spokane, Washington, from December of 1985 through December of 1998; the second in Falls Church, Virginia, from July of 1999 through April of this year. I am now in the process of establishing Al’s Piano Tuning and Repair in Greenville, North Carolina. It will, like its predecessors, be successful.

Let me talk now about some of the blindness skills that I use in the operation of my business. First, Braille—fluency in reading and writing Braille has been essential to my success. I keep all of my customer records, including the daily schedule of appointments, in Braille. Second, good cane travel (mobility) skills--I need to be able to walk from the front door to the piano competently regardless of obstacles such as stairs, toys, family pets, etc., without being dragged by the hand. I do not want the image of the “helpless blind man” to get in the way of my ability to sell piano servicing. Third, technology--I use some specialized technology such as a BrailleNote, a talking tape measure, and a Braille micrometer (just to mention a few) that make it possible for me to do the same things as my sighted competitors. I have combined the Federation’s positive attitude about blindness with the skills I have gained over the years in servicing pianos into an “I can do this” philosophy. Simply stated, I like my job. I am convinced that it is respectable to be a blind piano technician. That is why I was one of the leaders in establishing the NFB’s National Association of Blind Piano Technicians in 1999.

I shall now discuss briefly some of the myths and misconceptions about piano servicing.

Myth: “You can’t make any money servicing pianos.” Here is a portion of an e-mail that I received in early June regarding the sale of a piano servicing business. It reads in part: “Are you interested in purchasing an established piano service business in the southwestern part of Ontario, Canada? For the past 33 years, I have operated my own piano service business. Presently there are over 1,800 names on my customer list and my annual gross earnings have been in excess of $50,000 (Canadian currency) for the past 5 years. The customer base includes churches, schools, music teachers, businesses, music festivals, but with the majority being in-home service.”

Myth: “You have to have perfect pitch to properly tune a piano.” This is simply not true. I don’t know any piano technicians who have “perfect pitch.”

Myth: “People don’t buy pianos any more; they buy electronic keyboards.” More pianos were sold in this country last year than ever before.

Myth: “Pianos do not need to be tuned regularly.” Most, if not all of the major piano manufacturers worldwide recommend that a piano be tuned at least once a year.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a few things to think about. The next time you turn on your radio or television listen to how many commercials and songs have a piano accompaniment--I think you’ll be surprised--a lot! That means that I, and others like myself who are fortunate to have found this career, will always have a job. Also, think about how many people you know who either have a piano or know someone who does. Many of these pianos are not getting proper and regular care. The piano-servicing business is alive and well both in this country and throughout the world, that’s why so many sighted people are entering this occupation. With a 70 percent unemployment rate among blind people today we should look carefully at as many career paths as possible, both old and new, to find our career path to financial independence.

If you would like to get more information about piano servicing as a career path for your blind child, contact the School of Piano Technology for the Blind by phone at (360) 693-1511 or check out the Web site <www.pianotuningschool.org>. If you would like to contact me directly, I can be reached by phone at (252) 757-3023 or by e-mail at <[email protected]>. I look forward to hearing from you!

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