By John Justice
In this collection of stories, the author, totally blind, relates his experiences tuning pianos in New York City and Philadelphia during the 1960’s and 70’s. Some tales are humorous like “It Won’t Play If You Don’t Pay,” in which he describes his underhanded way of dealing with a customer who refused to pay for his services. Others showcase how unfairly he was treated by some customers, e.g. “Unintended Disaster,” in which he was blamed for breaking a music lamp on a piano top after being told it was clear.
Some stories don’t have much to do with piano tuning like “Star’s Rippingly Good Solution,” in which he explains how his guide dog handled a mugger on a New York City subway. In the title story, he relates how he found a packet of love letters inside a grand piano. At the end, he explains how he met his second wife at a rehabilitation facility for the blind in Little Rock, Arkansas, and eventually married her and found other employment while still tuning pianos on the side.
Since I play the piano, I was fascinated by his explanation of the inner workings of the instrument, as he related his various experiences. I liked his descriptions of Madison Square Garden and the Lincoln Center where he was sent to tune pianos. As a registered music therapist, my favorite piece was “Song for Adrienne,” in which his playing of a familiar Christmas carol touched the heart of a young woman in a psychiatric hospital. I loved his quote at the end. “Life is like a piano. It has highs and lows, but when all is said and done, it is an instrument on which we all must play our tunes.”