INTO THE WORLD OF PIANO TUNERS
by Pablo A. Tariman
“White. Like a clean piece of paper, like uncarved ivory, all is white when the story begins.” -Daniel Mason, author, “The Piano Tuner”
No one knows exactly when the first piano tuners arrived in the country.
But to be sure, they came before or after the turn of the last century when a German Benedictine nun named Sister Baptista Battig introduced the first formal piano lessons in the Philippines.
Referred to as “the Milan of the Orient,” Manila had its share of singers who were educated in Italy and an equally good share of pianists who made a career here and abroad.
Nena del Rosario Villanueva is considered the country’s first piano prodigy who studied at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In her league is a sterling generation of pianists that include Benjamin Tupaz, Jose Contreras, Reynaldo Reyes, Ernesto Lejano and Maria Luisa Vito, among others.
Surely, all these excellent pianists cannot do without a good piano tuner.
The piano tuner of Rowena Arrieta, the first Filipino Tchaikovsky Laureate in Moscow, during her Baguio City concert was Jun Jacela. When he passed away, his nephew, Michael Jacela took over and serviced pianos owned by music teachers. (He, too, passed away two years ago.)
Moreover, the piano odyssey of pianist Cecile Licad is far more definitive and spectacular than the rest of her colleagues young and old.
Like Villanueva, Licad also studied at Curtis and became the school’s star pupil — like China’s Lang Lang after her.
With good pianists, the demand for good pianos — and good piano tuners — was understandable.
In the case of Licad, she asks for many shades and nuances of sounds from her piano.
In one concert, she looks for a sound perfect for her Chopin and Schumann.
She may demand another piano good for Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. She will also need a special unique sound for her Brahms.
In yet another engagement, she will look for a distinct sound ideal for Bartok and Shostakovich.
All of these sound requirements can only come with a good piano tuner.
When Licad performed at the Santuario de San Antonio Church in Forbes Park one Friday night in October, she brought with her a 9-foot Hamburg Steinway which is rarely seen in Manila’s piano stores.
The piano which traveled all the way from New York came with a piano tuner named Ricard de la Rosa who is president of the New York-based Pro Piano.
De la Rosa is big name in piano business as he supplies –and on the side tunes — pianos for the world’s greatest pianists namely Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich, Lang Lang, Daniel Baremboim, Yundi Li and Vladimir Ashkenazy, among others.
Licad is in that league and it follows that she gets the services of some of the country’s most reliable piano tuners.
When the pianist borrowed the Steinway grand of presidential daughter Irene M. Araneta (the piano was gift to her by the eminent pianist Van Cliburn), the piano was tuned by Raymond Lim who is in the league of another much sought after tuner, Iggy Tuazon who services piano owners in exclusive subdivisions.
In some earlier performances in the provinces, she gets the services of Danny Lumabi who is also connected with Lyric Piano and Organ Corporation.
Lumabi was with Licad when she performed at the historic Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte, in a seaside resort in Currimao town in the same province and in Baguio City, among others.
In the Currimao outreach concert, Lumabi dived underneath the Steinway grand when its pedal gave way in the middle of a Mozart sonata. He quickly fixed it as though it was just child’s game.
In some earlier outreach concerts in the 90s, Licad’s piano tuning needs were provided by Pablo Umali who for a time was official tuner of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Earlier, Umali tuned upright pianos when a summer music festival opened in Catanduanes (Bicol region) in 1992.
When Licad performed with Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses (a gold medalist in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow) in Zambales, the late Romy Comoda tuned the pianowhich used to stay at the Manila Metropolitan Theater.
Comoda tuned upright pianos used in the Cagayan Valley Music Festival which opened in Ilagan, Isabela in 2001. He also tuned the piano used by Licad at St. Paul University in Tuguegarao City in Cagayan in 2002 and 2003.
Comoda’s son, Alexander, has taken over his father’s work and owns the Comoda PianoService Center in Las Pinas.
Alexander Comoda tuned the upright pianos when the summer music festival resumed in Catanduanes in 2013.
When the Licad-Meneses duo performed in Bacolod, tuning was made by Ricardo Garcia who is also the tuner of pianist and now CCP president Raul Sunico.
At one time, Garcia serviced 12 pianos of the Seventh-Day Adventist in Palau as requested by its governor.
For now, Manila Pianos – the biggest piano dealer in Manila at the moment –keeps a stable of piano tuners at its beck and call.
Ray Sison of ROS Music Center also has a stable of piano tuners some of whom trained in Germany when he became distributor of Bosendorfer pianos in Manila.
In his book, there are only no more than 20 good piano tuners in the country and among them are Raymond Lim, Marios Petsas, Danny Lumabi, Iggy Tuason, Arnel Umali and Ivan Yegorov of Manila Pianos.
Sison’s stable of piano technicians go beyond tuning.
One of them, Arnel Umali, is a certified piano tuner and technician who trained in the Bosendorfer factory in Vienna, Austria
Said he: “Good tuning lasts longer through careful repetition and special technique. We also offer good regulation which restores factory settings of all moving parts of the piano. These results in a piano that responds easily with bigger sound and can give pianist more enjoyable performance.”
From Sison’s estimate, there is a piano (upright or baby grand) in every household in the class A and B category.
Alexander Comoda who learned how to tune from his late father, Romy, started tuning piano since 2003 and went full time in 2010 after finishing a bachelor of science in nursing.
Said he: “Piano tuning allows you to meet music loving families whose pianos have rich history from one generation to another. Some wanted their old pianos restored because of the memories those pianos keep. Of course I went full time intopiano tuning to preserve the little legacy my father left.”
The need for piano tuners varies for concerts big and small and in genres from pop to classical.
Outside the concert circuit, piano dealers remind you that you need pianotuners to preserve your instrument and –according to a Manila Pianos briefing – to avoid costly repairs in the future.
A piano dealer’s brochure describes piano tuning as “the act of making minute adjustments to the tensions of the strings of a piano to properly align the intervals between their tones so that the instrument is in tune. The meaning of the term in tune in the context of piano tuning is not simply a particular fixed set of pitches.”
Among others, the brochure says piano tuning requires an assessment of the interaction among notes, which is different for every piano, thus in practice requiring slightly different pitches from any theoretical standard. Pianos are usually tuned to a modified version of the system called equal temperament. In all systems of tuning, every pitch may be derived from its relationship to a chosen fixed pitch usually pegged at A440.
Connected with the world’s greatest pianists, Pro Piano’s De la Rosa remains the most trusted name in business of piano supply and tuning in the last 45 years.
His Hamburg Steinway — which he tuned himself during the latest Manila concert of Licad — attests to the high degree of professionalism in the piano business.
Indeed, life is like a piano and what you get out of it depends on how you play it.
To a large extent, the quality of the sound you get also depends on how well you have chosen your piano and the quality of piano tuner.
Through the years, piano tuners have acquired a rare capability to absorb a specialized form of listening.
As music appreciation improves, the better an instrument should sound.
Concertgoers notice that an orchestra doesn’t begin performance without making sure all instruments are tuned.
True enough, the instruments in the orchestra are like strings in a piano.
In the end, you realize that before great music begins, the elements — upon which the harmonies are built — must be aligned.
Indeed, it is unthinkable to have a good piano performance without a good piano tuner.