Profile of Don Mitchell, Piano Tuner-Technician
Intro: Did you know that there are 18 million pianos in the United States? That there are 25 to 30 thousand new pianos built and sold each year? That many of the 100 thousand plus pianos built in other countries find their way to America? Who on earth takes care of them all? Read on to find out.
The Story: My name is Don Mitchell. I am 57 years old and have been working as a piano tuner-technician for 36 years. We call ourselves piano tuner-technicians because we do more than just tune pianos. Generally, when people think of piano tuning they think of just tuning an instrument like a guitar but with a lot more strings than a guitar. Most musicians find it easy to tune a guitar, so at a glance piano tuning may appear to be a passé, unchallenging career. But after 36 years in the business, I have to say this is not a correct picture.
Piano tuner-technicians tune pianos using a special system of tuning for keyboard instruments known as equal temperament, which takes a huge investment of time to learn to do well. To keep the piano functioning to the highest standards we also make repairs to the playing mechanism of the instrument. This mechanism is a complex machine that requires much regular maintenance and conditioning.
We work with a large variety of people from young children who are students to accomplished concert musicians. We work in homes, churches, colleges, recording studios, and on performance stages. We work for people who know little about the piano and music to people who have advanced degrees in music and music performance. We have the opportunity to tune for famous musicians as well as hundreds of everyday nice people. Since we work in so many places we have the opportunity to travel throughout our communities and gain the respect of all we work for. This career also gives one the opportunity to specialize in a small area, like tuning in the home, or working in a shop with other technicians rebuilding pianos worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There are 18 million pianos in the United States alone and another 25 to 30 thousand new ones built and sold each year. There are also over 100 thousand pianos built in other countries, many of which find their way to America. Yet, there are only 4 thousand registered piano technicians. You can see that there is plenty of opportunity to make a good living in this profession.
The Piano Technician's Guild, the organization that certifies piano tuner-technicians, did a survey and learned that the average piano tuner-technician makes from 35 to 45 thousand dollars per year. However, I personally know technicians who make from 60 to 100 thousand dollars each year in this career.
I enjoy this career because I get to work with musicians. I am a musician myself and love playing piano, guitar, five-string banjo, and bass as well as singing and playing in a trio called "Three Together." (Our CDs can be found on www.cdbaby.com)
I started in this career after majoring in music in college because I wanted to do something that would make it possible for me to continue my interest in music. I learned about a training program in Vancouver, Washington, a school called the School of Piano Technology for the Blind. I trained there for two years and upon completion, was hired to work for the school to tune and repair pianos. Several years later they asked me to begin teaching the trade to our students and in 1988 I was promoted to Director of Instruction. In this position I write curriculum for the school, work on maintaining our school accreditation and teach lecture and lab classes. I teach classes on repairing pianos as well as music theory and history. In addition, I teach classes on business and the science of acoustics.
One of the most common questions we get here at the school is: "Aren't electronic pianos eliminating the piano in our society?" and the answer is "No." Although electric pianos are very prevalent in the music business, traditional piano sales have been increasing steadily since the mid 1980s.
We (The School of Piano Technology for the Blind) are looking for young people who might like to learn this craft and perhaps become teachers at the school in the future. For those who are interested, there is a bright and promising future in this career!
The Contact: Don Mitchell