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  • Milton Horne

Becoming a piano tuner (or, Rehabilitating a controversial name)

I get asked a lot how I ever got into this business. And that always evokes a string of wonderful memories of wonderful people. Not the least of these is one whose memory rehabilitates a rather controversial name, these days: Mr. Trump, our family piano tuner. His encouragement to me (at the age of ten!) to pursue the craft of piano tuning and technical work probably both saved me from some rather unpleasant childcare and started me on what became a life-changing apprenticeship.

The schools were overcrowded in my hometown in 1969, the year I was to begin Junior High School. The solution was to split the class into two sessions, AM and PM. I was assigned to the PM session and therefore needed to remain home, alone, in the mornings, waiting for my afternoon bus. My parents arranged childcare, of course (I was insulted by this partly because I was thirteen and partly because I did not like the neighbor whom they arranged for me to stay with) and I found an alternative: a local piano technician and rebuilder whom I asked (begged, really) to let me come clean the shop, put away tools, and generally follow him around (thirteen year old assistant!) every morning. He thought about it and said, “If you can talk your parents into it, sounds good to me.”

My father met the man (Mr. Whitby) and they agreed that I would ride my bike to the shop each morning (not more than a couple miles), open up and work for about three hours, ride my bike home to catch my bus to school. After a while, Mr. Whitby began to recognize that I had some inclination and skill toward the craft and invited me to consider an apprenticeship. I worked at that apprenticeship all through Jr. High School and much of High School. And that opened doors for further work and study wherever I was in the world. Frankly, every time I tell that story it sounds more unbelievable to me, not least because I have to be grateful for Mr. Trump (and Mr. Whitby). What did you do in Junior High School?

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