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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Campus

Inside the meticulous world of tuning that makes every Moores piano sound its best


Moores School of Music has 26 pianos, all whose parts need to be rebuilt every three years. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

Moores School of Music has 189 pianos, all whose parts need to be rebuilt every three years. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

The sounds of the piano are a classic staple in music history, but the instrument’s maintenance requires intense work and years of training.

Moores School of Music’s head technician Corbin Sturch and intern Wesley Sliger work on the school’s large number of pianos, which parts need to be rebuilt every three years.

“In the Moores school, we have over 189 instruments (pianos), and we’re tuning them constantly,” Sturch said.

Moores has over 500 students, 300-plus concerts and events annually and four full-length operas. Concert instruments must be tuned every other day, but because many students play the pianos every day, their parts need special care.

Sturch and Sliger were brought on by the University in the fall of 2019, and in that amount of time, they’ve gotten their work down to an organized system. 

“There have been technicians at Moores for at least two decades,” Sturch said. “So we’re not the first tech team, but we’re pretty well organized.”

The process of rebuilding these pianos is not a simple task, especially for only two people and with limited parts available. Stringing a piano can take Sturch and Sliger up to three days.

“We’ve been kind of at the mercy of the business office and how quickly they can get things ordered,” Sturch said. “Realistically, we can turn a piano around with a rebuild in about a month or less.”

Instruments at Moores are played by students for up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, so their pianos get wear and tear faster than a piano would in a home. The Technicians’ main goal is to give Moores students the best instrument possible.

“It’s the coolest thing in the world to be a part of a performance in a way that people can’t imagine,” Sturch said.

Learning how to rebuild and tune pianos can take years, and with only a few schools in the US, Sturch hopes that one day they can welcome a piano technician program at UH.

Sliger was brought in to help Sturch in September 2019 and is still rebuilding his first piano at Moores. Although he has helped with some aspects of rebuilding, the Steinway & Sons piano he is currently working on is all on him.

“Tuning, it’s been three years,” Sliger said. “Doing the regulating, probably two years and the full action rebuilds only since September.”

Students on campus, even those not in the school of music, who are interested in learning about piano tuning and rebuilding are welcome to come shadow the team through the process.

With only one alumni able to assist on tuning, Sturch encourages more students to get involved and learn all about the world of a piano technician.

Both of the techs have different reasons for why they got started in this rare business, but they both have similar reasons as to why they love doing this job.

“The pianist’s job doesn’t happen without us,” Sturch said. “It’s a really special feeling to look at something after we’re done and just think that hundreds of people are going to appreciate this without ever knowing we were a part of it.”

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