Piano tuning as allegory

I’ve been tuning pianos during my Break week from college classes.  I don’t like the process of tuning pianos.  I don’t even like the end result of having tuned a piano all that much—not compared to mowing the lawn, anyway.  When the lawn is mowed, I feel accomplished and enjoy looking at the result, knowing it will last for a certain amount of time.  The job is done, and the result is relatively sure.  It’s either done, or it’s note.

With a piano, though, the result is more squirrely.  It’s not necessarily done when it’s done.  Pins will slip even while I’m sitting there—and especially so on the less-than-stellar pianos I typically tune.  Yesterday, on a spinet that was particularly troubled by a bumpy move on the Southern Tier Expressway (I-86) last summer, I could actually see the hammer moving on its own, as the pin loosened spontaneously in defiant response to being tightened.  This piano has no hope whatsoever of staying in tune.  I listened, bumped, tapped, listened, groaned, wrenched, waited, sledgehammered, listened again, and nearly gave up several times.  Most strings were tunable, but some were not.

Some pins snapped right into place and didn’t move, and for those, I was grateful.  Tones and chords did come into tune with each other, and there was some satisfaction.  But a good tuning is based on a standard such as a tuning fork or properly calibrated electronic tuner, and having used one of those as a benchmark to start, I knew that the overall tuning was not what it should have been, if the piano had been in better shape.  It was not really possible to bring the piano up to “concert pitch,” so I had to settle for something less—tuning it to itself, with a lower standard.

After struggling through, and powering through until the job, which was my third this week, could be completed, I explained the situation with the non-tunable strings to my client, took my money, and ran.  Well, not exactly.  It was more like a brisk walk on a cold, windy day.  But still, I didn’t feel accomplished in my work, and felt a little guilty taking my fee:  even later that day in their house, the piano would be less than playable.  It’s a bad piano, and there’s nothing I could do about it.

If God is the piano tuner and I am the piano, I doubt He has much satisfaction in a “job well done,” either.  I know that old cliché that potentially arrogantly (and definitely ungrammatically correctly) proclaims “God don’t make no junk!”  But that saying doesn’t resonate much in me; I’m more stuck in the knowledge that I’m like a damaged Wurlitzer who knows that Yamahas and Steinways and Bösendorfers exist.

  • Bumpy roads in my life have left me damaged.  Banging and yanking and sledgehammering may not even hurt that much any more, but neither does it have any good effect.
  • When He tries to tune me, I resist, much like the stubborn pins & strings I dealt with yesterday on the Wurlitzer.
  • Some of my pins may snap right into place, but others are difficult to get to the right position.
  • His “pitch standard” isn’t even in the picture.  Merely tuning me to myself is hard enough, and it doesn’t appear possible to tune me to the standard.

God, don’t give up.  Don’t walk away, thinking it’s a hopeless cause, embarrassed at the time you spent and the token “payment” you’ve received in exchange for services.  Please take a longer-term view with me than I take in piano tuning.  And please help me to know that you have the necessary capability, being the Master Tuner that you are.  Oh, and help me not to remember how bad the bumps were on the “Southern Tier Expressway.”


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