Piano tuning is a very specialised trade and there are only an estimated 11 000 qualified tuners in the world. In the Eastern Cape, there are only five recognised piano tuners. There is also no formal training available in South Africa to become a piano tuner. Yet, their skill is vital to the listening pleasure of millions as composers cannot write music to be played on piano’s that cannot hit the right notes.
Reon Brown has a good ear and is committed and passionate about hitting the right notes. It takes patience, an extraordinary amount of it, as he tunes the piano note for note.
“I was fortunate to have had Eddie Yap as my mentor and tutor. To become a tuner, you have to be introduced to the instrument by someone who will teach you.”
An experienced tuner is a sought-after commodity.
Established tuners like Brown end up travelling a fair bit. Most of the pianos in the Eastern Cape have felt his touch. He has also met some famous people along the way.
“Locally, was Mr Jordaan from soccer (sic). I have tuned the painos of the CEO of Volkswagen, Rocco de Villiers. It is great if someone trusts you to do a good job. And then there was Brian Adams!”
Tuning itself is not exciting. It is a tedious process with the pianos themselves sometimes revealing a surprise or two.
“I brought some coins that I found under the keys. If I open it up, I would (see) the tiekies and pennies. Here is a pennie from 1887. Old pianos have a cavity at the back. There, I found this Smartie box with the price of 6 pennies, which I cherish.”
It seems that pianos can be favoured hiding places. He was once requested to open a piano to extract a hidden Kruger rand.
The little key bag on the inside of the piano is often a go-to hiding place.
“The mom remembered that 20 years ago she was a dentist assistant, and a thankful client gave the dentist a bigger gold coin, and she got a smaller.”
The piano is a magnificent instrument and Brown has worked his magic on some of the best out there. He even had to tune pianos on two different cruise ships in the harbour.
The last one was on the Queen Victoria.
“Wow, what an experience! I tuned four grand pianos, and was invited for a lovely lunch!”
With the digital world marching forward at speed, electronic instruments rival the real deal. The question that has to be asked is: “Will the piano survive and remain popular?”
“It is the only instrument, like guitar and concertina, which expresses emotion. You can play it soft or loud. To play on the same model, it does not feel and play the same. Each has its character.