I got an e-mail today from a friend looking for the name of my piano tuner. I remembered his name was Paul... but blanked on the last name. Remembering that I'd written a column about him, I did a quick search of my computer and got my answer. (Oh, the wonder of technology.)
I also re-read that column, which reminded me (1) that I need to make an appointment to get my piano tuned; and (2) that as long as Paul Chick is working, he will be the only tuner I will ever call.
Here's why, from the files of Jen's World 2007:
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Last week, piano technician and tuner Paul Chick proved to me again why he is a man of integrity. But before I tell you why, I need to give you a little back-story.
Last year, I got a free piano. A neighbor was moving and didn’t want the instrument in the new house.
This, of course, should’ve sent up a red flag. But I wasn’t thinking clearly, because from the moment I’d heard “free piano” I’d been playing the scenarios in my head: My children glued to my side as I taught them scales. My family lovingly gathered ‘round, singing carols. Dinner guests entertained by my masterful playing.
We drove the minivan over that night, wild with anticipation. But it quickly became apparent why our neighbors didn’t want the piano in their new house. It was chipped. The legs were twisted. It was missing the entire front portion of its wooden case.
It also became apparent that this was not a minivan job. The ancient upright would, as my four-year-old is fond of saying, squash my van “like a grape.”
Plan B: It had wheels. We lived two blocks away. We could do this.
So there I was, knocking on any house with a light on: “Do you have a few minutes?” I’d ask. “Want to help move a piano?” (A little advice: It’s imperative that you determine that people are indeed free before you tell them you need help rolling a 700-pound piano down the street.)
Ten minutes later, my husband and six neighbors who were unable to come up with an excuse were pushing the piano ever so slowly down the middle of River Court. I followed in the van, my headlights leading their way down the dark street.
Our cluster made it halfway down the first block when we were abruptly stopped. A wheel had fallen off. Determined the rolling part of our adventure wasn’t over, I ran home and returned to the scene with two dollies and my seven-year-old’s X-Men skateboard. The skateboard worked.
A block-and-a-half later — after much giggling on the ridiculousness of the situation and some photo ops (“OK, stop — you can’t stop? Well, ok, everyone look up — Brian, stop grimacing! — and smile!”), I had a piano.
It looked bigger and uglier in my living room than it had in the neighbor’s garage. But I didn’t care. As soon as the crowd dispersed, I began to play. Due to the gaping hole in the front, I was able to watch the hammers strike the strings as I launched into the only song I knew by heart anymore — my ninth grade recital piece, Invention No. 2 by Bach.
Some keys didn’t work. Some stuck. Some played entire chords. All were off key.
Still, I’d play for hours in the evenings. “I’m not making mistakes!” I’d yell to my husband over the din. “It’s the piano. Some of the keys are off!”
When my children began saying things like, “That song gives me a tummy ache,” I called Mr. Chick — who told me that fixing my piano would be like putting a new transmission in a 30-year-old, rust-bucket car. “I could do it,” he said, running his hand along the keys. “But I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”
That’s when I first knew Mr. Chick had integrity. But it was last week that he left me truly impressed.
A few months ago, he helped me find my piano’s replacement — a used, but infinitely prettier and better sounding model. At the time, he told me he’d come back to tune the piano once it settled into its new home. I forgot. He didn’t. He not only took the initiative to set last week’s appointment — but he even made a couple of repairs when he was done tuning.
When I asked him what I owed him, he said, “Just put a little extra money in the offering plate on Sunday.” And I will.