Tuning the Unisons

Wanting to be part of a small club, instead of a stadium mass pushes me toward some unusual, and frequently lonely, activities. Like the secret to making apple pie, there is something mystical about tuning the unisons of the strings of my piano. Most strings of a piano are in groups of three, and sometimes two, and they have to be in unison — in short, they have to sound like one, and not three.

Educating your ear to accomplish that, is a lonely endeavor, because you must have quiet and the absence of other people. And yes, the mystery of a vibrating string to create a tone in a Beethoven sonata sometimes approaches the realm of a religious experience. And sometimes it just sounds like an old saloon or whore house upright.

As a novice I once tuned a set of pipes on a cathedral organ perfectly. Each note depended on two separate metal tubes for creating the sound. I did it wrong and the magic disappeared.

One of the pipes needed to be tuned a few degrees sharp to create the shimmering, misty beauty of the Voix celeste or (heavenly voice) . It consists of either one or two ranks of pipes slightly out of tune. The term celeste refers to a rank of pipes detuned slightly.

My piano, which is my friend, a friendship dating from 1960, shares the intellectual and spiritual hours - and is 149 years old. It was alive and could have been used by —Verdi, Wagner, Franck, Brahms, or Grieg. It responds stiffly and demands a technique now mostly abandoned or forgotten.

Tuning the unisons is a solitary activity and it lasts for hours.

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