By Carl Radford, RPT

(Reprinted with permission from the President's Message in the May, 2012 Partial Post, official newsletter of the North Shore Chapter of the Piano Technicians Guild.)

I had lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant recently with a friend I hadn’t seen in over sixteen years. After we caught up on the things that had changed in our lives during that time, we got to talking about our careers. He too is in the service industry, however after a tragic, life-changing event in his family, he decided that the service that he performs would have to take a back seat to listening to his customers, talking to them and telling them his view of the world. He felt that we, as a society, don’t take enough time and effort to listen to others anymore. We’re too busy. He fancies himself as sort of an amateur combination of prophet, spiritual philosopher and counselor. His wife cautioned him that he is going to lose all his clients if he continues this way, but his reply is, “Even if I lose all my customers, if it’s my destiny to help others, then so be it.” It was a very intense lunch. I could hardly believe that two hours and an entire falafel feast combo plate had swept by in what seemed like only a few minutes.

When I first started tuning I worked for a piano store as a warranty tuner. One of the other warranty tuners, who was well into his late 70’s at the time, was known to sometimes take half the day to tune a piano, and he would stay so long, that every so often his clients asked him to stay for dinner. Over the years I’ve had a few people ask me to stay for dinner now and then, but I have yet to ever accept an offer. He, on the other hand, turned it into an art form. I’m not sure how he did it: sniff the meal cooking and look hungry, drop hints, or just hang around till they had no other choice but to either starve or take pity on the nice old man and ask him to join them. He belonged in the Guinness Book of World Records for staying for dinner after a tuning. Look it up. He’s in there. He would have dinner at least once a week with some family. If he didn’t stay for dinner he would leave a pamphlet on the piano about his religious beliefs for the client to find after he left. We all thought it was a bit eccentric and kind of funny, until customers would call the store to complain about it. The storeowner eventually told him in no uncertain terms, that as long as he was paying him to tune for the store, he was representing the store and not his church. Didn’t faze him a bit. He still kept leaving the pamphlets and staying for dinner.

During the lunch with my friend we were talking about how his purpose and mission in life had changed so dramatically; I think he was in some ways still searching for answers, and out of the blue he asked me why I tune pianos. Why do I tune pianos? I hadn’t thought about that in a while, so it took me a few moments to come up with the answer.

There was a time, during the early part of my tuning career, when it seemed like I was working incredibly hard, but I was only working to pay bills and never really getting ahead. I was tired of tuning pianos, and I was thinking that maybe it was time to start thinking about changing careers again. I realized that I had two choices: I could find another career or I could figure out how to do what I do better, and if I was to choose the latter course, then I would going to need to find a higher purpose. I mean, I kind of vaguely knew, but it was all kind of murky. What’s the point? What’s the meaning behind it for me personally? Maybe if I really had a defined purpose it would reinvigorate my desire to do good work.

I’m not sure how it got started, but I began researching how to write a mission statement. I considered going through some kind of workshop to process and make my own mission statement, but in the end I studied the steps you’re supposed to take, pondered it quite a bit and drew up my own mission statement in rather little time. It may sound a bit corny, but going through the process of gathering up the reasons I'm in the business I'm in, sorting out which reasons are personally most important, and boiling it all down to a few little sentences, was a worthwhile and revitalizing challenge. It helped solidify it to write it down, and even if I put it in a drawer and never looked at it again, knowing that it was there and having it in place in my mind was all I needed if I ever questioned myself and my core beliefs about what is important to me in my career.

At the lunch with my friend, I instinctively thought back for a moment to the mission statement that I had written long before, and then I told him my answer to his question as to why I tune pianos. I told him that music is an international language. Not everyone speaks it, but everyone on the planet understands it, and most everyone at one time or another is moved by it. Music has the amazing ability to let us express our emotions in countless, sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic, sometimes humorous and sometimes beautiful, shades and hues that no mere words can ever come close to expressing.

I told him that if I can prepare and tune a piano so well that it sounds, feels and plays as beautiful as possible, so that when I leave the piano will be patiently waiting in tune and ready for that child or that music student, so that when she sits down to practice she enjoys what she hears and feels, and she is inspired to explore the joy of music, and if that child or student gets even half the enjoyment and fulfillment out of playing the piano that I have since I started playing piano, then it is all worthwhile for me. Or when that when that pianist, or performing artist, or the audience they perform for, is inspired to new heights as a result of the work that I do, then I can’t think of anything more rewarding.

After I have tuned a piano I always play for a bit to demonstrate the tuning and my customers often remark that it’s their favorite part of the tuning. I usually reply that it’s my favorite part too. But the real music to my ears, and what always makes me smile, is when they tell me that they are inspired.

Everyone has their own reasons for doing what they do. You and I may have some things that overlap and some that are the same, but your reasons may also be completely different from mine.

My friend at lunch, the old warranty tuner, and I, each have a different vision that is unique to each of us, and we also have some things in common with our visions. I’m not going to say that anyone’s vision is any less valid, as long as it comes from an authentic place, however I think the main difference between us, is that their personal core values seemed to be at odds with the core values of their business. When the personal vision becomes vastly different from the company vision, and it hasn’t been thought out well enough in advance, it can lead to a tug of war between the business goals and the personal goals. When that happens it’s a lot harder for the vision of either the business or the person to get a good footing and come out ahead.

After I had thought about it for a long time, I called up my friend and told him what I learned from our talk. Since then he has been transitioning to another line of work more in sync with his core beliefs. His reply was, “Carl, if you are buying lunch I am happy to enlighten you any time, my friend!"

Radford Piano Services Mission Statement

To inspire the pianist, future pianist and audience.
Perform the highest quality work possible to make pianos ready to inspire those pianists.
Be dedicated to honesty, integrity and professionalism.
Nurture and cultivate the future of the piano