The other day, I read a short but fascinating article by Hannah Sampson on the Miami Herald website about how cruise ship pianos take a lot of pounding, what with the constant changes of climate and what she described as ‘fierce playing by professionals’, which apparently wreaks havoc with a piano’s strings.
Tell me about it. I used to have a baby grand in the lounge of my former house in London that was attacked regularly (the piano, not the house) by a mad frustrated pianist – me.
Don’t shoot the pianist
To be perfectly honest, I can’t play for Toffee, or any other cat, but some of my friends can, so my wife and I held regular parties to encourage the bashing out of recognisable tunes on the old Joanna while our drunken relatives and acquaintances formed an informal choir.
Every now and then I’d call in the piano tuner to put things right. Once, after he’d swept the empty bottles, glasses, cigar butts and limp bodies off the black and white keys on the baby grand and fiddled with its insides, he suggested I wear mittens the next time I approached the keyboard of any piano, and preferably not to approach one at all.
He also told me that I had Van Gogh’s ear for music and that Beethoven was so deaf he thought a piano was an abacus.
What with the cost of regular piano tuning for an instrument that was used more as a piece of wooden and metal sculpture by me rather than to create beautiful melodies, I also invested in a book that told me absolutely everything I or anyone else would ever need to know about piano servicing, tuning and (the thought of this has never crossed my tiny mind) rebuilding.
All of which has got me thinking that a cruise would be the perfect place for someone to learn piano tuning. Apparently, there are usually three acoustic pianos on every ship that offers live entertainment to its passengers.
Piano tuning for beginners
You could break it down into five (or more, if it’s a long cruise) classes:
1. The history of the piano: antique, Victorian and modern pianos, and piano sizes (‘Mine’s a large upright’).
2. The construction of the piano: cabinet parts, soundboards, bridges, pinblocks, plates, tuning pins, strings, keybeds, key frames, keys, hammers, vertical actions and pedals, console, spinet and grand actions and pedals (‘Put your foot down and play’).
3. Tuning: acoustic theory, musical terminology, mathematics of the scale, tuning theory, basic tuning skills, tuning procedure, electronic tuning devices, and why a piano goes out of tune (‘James keeps trying to play it’).
4. Regulating: precautions, vertical action regulating, removing the action (shades of Oceans Eleven), spinet, Woods and Brooks 90 degrees, and grand action – regulating the touch and tone, and hammer voicing (‘When I hit you with this hammer, yell’).
4. Repairing: woodworking basics, the proper use of tools, repairing stripped screw-holes (sexy!), glue joints, types of glue, solvents and cleaners, evaluating the condition, frame and plate, pinblock and tuning pins, the effects of climate on a cruise ship piano, moth prevention, and cleaning a piano (‘It helps not to pour beer, wine and cocktails over the keys’).
More courses for cruises
Why stop there? A sea cruise is a great opportunity to learn some traditional British skills and crafts, many of which date back to medieval times, such as;
- tanning hides (especially the hides of any passengers who are late back from shore leave and hold up the ship)
- brewing (most ships have lots of bars, for sampling)
- walking stick manufacture (you’ll need one after all that booze)
- thatching (a new look for a cruise ship…)
- pottery (which would help replace all those glasses and plates you broke during the brew sampling)
- cheese-making (you could open a ship’s Deli that sells home-made beer, wine and fromage)
- rope, net and sail making and boat building (very useful on board a ship for you never know when you’re going to end up on a desert island, desperate to escape)
- harvesting the sea (a.k.a. fishing for creatures of the deep, and edible seaweed, rather like the crew of Captain Nemo’s submarine, Nautilus)
- and dry-stone walling – around the ship’s pool.
You go on a cruise, keep a tradition alive, change careers when you get back home, and maybe earn enough to take another cruise.
What do you mean you think this is a stupid idea! It’d make a nice change to basking on the sun deck, stuffing your face umpteen times a day, or shovelling all your spare change into the slot machines in the ship’s casino.
Read this blog for more on Piano Tuning