Pianos are one of the largest, most complex instruments around, and they need specialists like Kevin Perry to keep them sounding their best. We talked to the piano tuner on what it takes to do his job well.
How did you get into this business?
I've been a piano tuner for 31 years. I came to Florida in 1976 basically looking for any job I could find. I thought I would go to University of South Florida at night to take teacher certification courses or maybe get a graduate degree so I could become a teacher in elementary education. But at the same time I had the opportunity to become an apprentice in the piano-building business. It was a two-year apprenticeship at minimum wage, but if I completed it, I would be able to be a piano tuner.
I went to rent a piano because I had just gotten here and wanted a piano, since I played. I play by ear. I couldn't afford the rental, but the man that was renting it out asked me what kind of job I was looking for. I said I'd take anything and he told me about this apprenticeship. Cannon Music Co., owned by Charles Raymondo in Tampa, hired apprentices to learn how to repair and rebuild pianos to service his 12 stores and all of their customers, too. It's ironic because a year before that I was thinking things I could do and even thinking about going to school to become a piano tuner, but it was expensive to learn and I didn't have any money at the time. Instead of paying someone to teach me, I was getting paid to learn.
After training, what next?
I became a subcontractor for Cannon Music Co. tuning pianos in its stores and after a few tunings I was allowed to go into customers' homes. Most customers get a free tuning when they buy a piano, so I would do the free tuning and any warranty service or repair calls that came up. Then, I would have the contact to follow up with. It's been like that for the past 30 years. I used to also rebuild, but I don't have a shop anymore.
What did you do when you owned a shop?
I rebuilt pianos; some from the ground up. I enjoyed rebuilding, it was really gratifying. I couldn't wait to buy an old grand and fix it up. I bought one for $300 and fixed it up, but, unfortunately, finances led to me having to let it go. It was hard to let go of the pianos I fixed up.
What is your favorite thing about what you do?
The independence. I like being self-employed. I can't be laid off or fired or have my job sent to India. It's really a one-man thing. Sometimes it's a little lonely because you're usually by yourself. When you tune it's quiet for an hour to an hour and a half and then you're driving home. Sometimes you make friends, though, with the customers and you can end up talking for a while before or after.
Who are your clients?
Every day I go to homes. Many days I go to schools. I also go to a lot of piano stores. The school system has hundreds of pianos that need servicing. Condos, clubhouses, mobile home parks, concert venues, the Tampa Theatre, the Performing Arts Center, Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Sun Dome. Sometimes you even get to meet the star that is going to play the piano.
Who is the most famous person you've met?
Roger Williams is my favorite that I've met. It was at Innisbrook Country Club in Tarpon Springs and it was my first concert tuning ever and I was very nervous to be tuning for an artist I had seen on TV shows many times. He's famous for Autumn Leaves, Born Free and Flight of the Bumble Bee. You don't always get to meet the artist, but I've tuned a piano I knew was about to be played by Elton John. It would make me nervous and I'd be thinking, "I hope he likes it."
For more information on piano tuning, call Kevin Perry at (727) 525-8391.