Thursday, June 30, 2011
It's a Package Deal
"France would be great without the French." To which I replied, "France would not be France without the French." The man that said this to me was a performer who had traveled extensively worldwide and was familiar with most major countries. I decided not to get into a debate when he contrasted France to Italy and remarked how Italy was "the best." When I asked why, he said because they have the best food and best people.
You cannot extract essential elements that you don't like from a package that you do like and expect to be left with the same package. The French are proud, with good reason. And they can be quite particular. This is why they have excelled in so many areas - food, wine, film, architecture, art, music, philosophy, science, culture - and why France still tops the list of tourist destinations.
These things do not come by accident or from a laissez-faire attitude. High quality products require exacting standards. The French are often much less willing than others to compromise quality. There are many other cultures and people who share the same drive for quality, and the world of music is one place to look. When I learned that a friend was having her piano tuned, I asked if I could drop in to observe.
When I met Arpad Maklary, I was reminded of a woman who was once asked why she would eat at Le Cirque (a very expensive restaurant) every night and spend so much money. I heard that she had responded,"It's the only place in town where you can get a decent meal." When I spoke to Arpad, he asked if I had played piano. I replied that I had not studied piano, but that I had dabbled with accordion, guitar, cello and violin. I expressed the difficulty in playing an unfretted stringed instrument and how long it takes just to locate the notes. He replied that one of the real problems learning cello was that you would have to spend at least $30,000 to get a decent instrument. When I asked what he thought of digital pianos, he said they were fine, but they were not pianos.
I began to see a man who was serious, particular and uncompromising. But if you are being paid to tune a musical instrument with 220 strings, a compromising individual may not be the best for the job.
Arpad hails from Hungary, where he learned his craft at the Hungarian Musical Instrument School. He has worked twenty years as a piano rebuilder, tuner and technician. He also plays. I spoke to him at length about a number of subjects - he encouraged me to read about Léon Theremin, Jean-Henri Pape and an early instrument, the monochord. I quickly learned that, like many trades people trained in a European tradition, this man's knowledge was very thorough.
I was unaware that a piano has between 220 and 240 strings (the treble is in groups of three, the tenor and part of the bass in pairs and one string in the very low bass.) When I showed surprise that treble strings were in groups of three, he told me that this was to match the amplitude of the bass strings and that the increase in volume is the square root of three or about 1.7. I speculated that perhaps few tuners knew the science of music at this level and he assured me that most did not.
I watched Arpad work his craft, using a wrench, digital tuner and his ears. This is exacting and painstaking work. The piano was badly out of tune and many strings needed to be retuned. I was told that replacing all the strings in a piano is a two day job. I found Arpad to be polite and professional. Like the French, he was quite particular and perhaps even a little persnickety. But if you want well made things or things made well, things fine tuned or things tuned finely, usually it's a package deal :)
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