Michael Agard: The piano man
Mon, July 30, 2012 - 12:00 AM
Haviong grown up in a musical family and having played the piano from a young age, Michael Agard naturally carved out a career that included the instrument that he loved.
What initially piqued your interest and led you to pursue a career in piano tuning?
One day I was at home and was watching the tuner tune my piano. After a couple of minutes of watching him, I started to ask questions as to what exactly he was doing. After he explained, I then found piano tuning very interesting.
My first question to him was, how many people tune pianos in Barbados? His reply was, “Three to five.” From there on I found heightened interest in pianos as it was not a highly populated field. Being a piano player myself and doing up to Grade 5 in The Royal Schools Of Music Piano Practical Examinations, I knew a bit about pianos. But after watching him tune the piano, and listening to it afterwards, I spoke to my dad and told him, “This is what I want to do”.
Did you do lots of research into the field?
After days of research on where I could learn the trade, I called Pianoman Music Centre and spoke to manager Michael Gibbons on how I could to tune pianos. He was excited to hear my call as he had been looking for a tuner for a while to bolster his piano department, as piano tuning is in high demand in Barbados with 800 plus pianos on the island. Plus the business responds to requests for piano tuning made by many cruise ships when they dock here in Barbados, and it also runs piano operations in some of the other Caribbean islands. After a year of working at Pianoman Music Centre as an apprentice, I did more research on where I could learn piano technology on a full-time basis. That was when I found Newark College in United Kingdom and from there I never looked back.
Was it difficult transitioning to living and studying abroad?
When I first arrived in the UK, my first challenge was the weather. It was always cold, dark and depressing, but I was on a mission, so I tried not to let it bother me. My first day at school I remember leaving my mum at home and feeling very nervous on the way walking to school. I arrived and the teacher said, “He has come all the way from Barbados to join us”, and the class was shocked that someone from so far came to learn this unique trade.
The teacher Mr John Lord asked how well I could tune. I replied, “In my opinion, okay.” He then gave me a tuning kit, pointed at a Baldwin upright piano in the first tuning booth and said, “Let me know when you’re finished”. I spent almost two and a half hours tuning that piano and when I was finished I was not happy with it. Mr Lord came, checked the piano tuning job I had done and said, “You’ve passed first year in one day. Join the second year class from tomorrow.” And I smiled.
I went home and gave my mum the good news that I no longer had to be in the UK for three years as I initially planned but only for two years. It was all thanks to my tuning skills which I learned in Barbados.
From then on I enjoyed every single day of it. I’ve not only learned to tune pianos but I now know how to undertake massive piano repairs and restoration to the point where I can do French polishing.
I’m now qualified with an EDI degree in acoustics, an EDI Level 3 certificate in classical musical instrument technology (piano maintenance, tuning and toning) and an EDI Level 3 certificate in classical musical instrument technology (piano restoration and repair).
Are people amazed when you tell them what you’re doing for a career?
When they hear what I studied people look at me bewildered and ask what would make me study something like piano technology. My answer would always be, “I was in for a new challenge, something different from everyone and after growing up around music with my dad being the manager of krosfyah, I thought piano technology would be the right choice for me.”
Where do you want this career path to take you?
Piano tuning is challenging, as all pianos aren’t the same. They all don’t tune the same way based on different imperfections in the piano – perhaps the strings, the tension on the frame or many other factors. Some pianos just behave differently after being tuned and this is where developing a good tuning technique comes in.
There are many tuners who have big paying jobs like those who travel with artistes like Alicia Keys, John Legend, Adele and many more. Those artistes are always playing pianos, and whenever the piano they play is moved, whether from one side of the stage to the other or otherwise, it has to be tuned. Piano technology has a big market, especially in Europe, and my dream is just to perfect the trade and go from there.
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