The peculiar craft of piano tuning is not the actual subject of this tidy collection of lyrical essays set in the Arkansas Ozarks. Rather, Notes of a Piano Tuner invites the reader to a privileged view of the idiosyncrasies of human nature as the author travels on her daily rounds from the concert halls of the thriving cities to one-room churches on isolated dirt roads. Where music is the common language of rich and poor, young and old, simple and sophisticated, the piano tuner wrests harmonious performance from these complicated Victorian machines.
Non-fiction. Published 1997. Available at Amazon, hardcover.
5 star review! “Very few of us have an inkling of what a piano tuner’s duties might entail. Thankfully, Denele Pitts Campbell shares some of her experiences with us in this lovely memoir. “I sometimes see my professional duty as an almost sacred task, a ministration to eternal muses which give music to speak what words cannot say in questions or answers that are never clearly formed.” (page 8) Wow! We accompany her on this noble mission as she travels the back roads of Arkansas to get to her customers — the payers as well as the players. Hers is the kind of job that gets her out and traveling through the landscape, which she seems to enjoy almost as much as the pianos and people she meets along the way. She visits and performs her work at a variety of venues: private homes of all kinds, churches, schools, concert halls. Each has it own unique demands; and to say she has seen a wide variety of keyboards is the ultimate understatement. Still, one woman can only do so much, and Campbell can’t create a concert-hall Steinway from a rinkey-tink mouse-house spinet. Issuing death sentences on mistreated instruments — ones left too long exposed to the elements (dirt floors, barns, mice, snakes (!), extreme humidity, or extreme temperatures) — is seemingly the toughest part of her job, especially if it means removing the possibility of music from a deserving but impoverished home. And the reader has to wonder: is Campbell of a dying breed, a fading past? As electronics and computers take over our lives, will our need for piano tuners diminish in return? After reading this book, one hopes not.” Corinne H. Smith
5 star review! “This book is wonderful, gentle and moving. The author truly loves what she does, and she loves the people whose pianos she tunes.” Amazon customer
4 star review! “I happened upon this book while doing a search. I also am a tuner and can understand what the author is doing and saying. The book seems less about the tuning than about the people and places where the pianos are and how the pianos got there. It is a well-written collection of episodes in the career of a tuner, almost in the same class as James Herriot, but it is a bit sad, to me.” Roderic P. Schleicher
From Publishers Weekly:
“Traveling the winding highways and back roads of the Arkansas Ozarks, Campbell makes house calls on ailing pianos and briefly enters the lives of their owners. From the highly polished, expensive Steinway that no one has used in years to the battered old upright some hard-pressed mother has bought for $50 so the kids can learn to play, she describes a wide range of family situations and dreams that these instruments symbolize. Sometimes a piano is in such hopeless condition that she knows it should be abandoned, but, sensitive to its importance to the owner, she does her best to recover its ability to make music. Her skills are a source of pleasure to her, not only because of her love of music and the human insights these visits provide, but also because of the delight she takes in her daily travels through the beautiful Ozark countryside, where her family has lived for generations. Campbell taught school and held a variety of jobs to support her children before learning to tune pianos from her music-teacher father. Her musings on the people she meets, the areas she drives through and the intricacies of piano tuning are thoughtful and engaging, offering views of life from a unique vantage.” Copyright 1997 Cahners Business Information, Inc.