|Team RCM is headed by Don Stephenson. Don has been in the field of piano technology for over 30 years. He also holds the position of Senior Technical Officer and Assistant to the Dean for Keyboards and Technology at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and is the tuning instructor for UWO’s Piano Technology Program, the only full-time university program for training piano tuner-technicians in North America. In addition to his work within an academic setting and his years of private service, Don has a 30-year affiliation with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where he is responsible for piano and harpsichord maintenance. He has had the opportunity to tune and work closely with many of music's premier classical and jazz artists. Don can be contacted at: email@example.com.|
Pianos frequently go out of tune because of many factors including change in humidity or temperature, moving and storage, as well as routine playing. The most important job of a piano technician is to provide a musical and stable tuning.
The piano has as many as 240 strings creating up to 30 tons of tension. The technician is responsible for setting each of these strings to exactly the right tension and pitch, which apply tons of force on the cast-iron plate and soundboard. The technician, in essence, is changing this massive force, and the more the tuner has to change, the less stable the tuning will be. This is why it is ideal to have a piano in a stable environment (temperature and humidity) and also have your piano tuned at least two to four times a year. Some of the concert pianos at The Conservatory are tuned twice a day!
Voicing is an art of piano technology that takes many years to develop. Different pianos produce different sound qualities. This is due to many things, from the major differences in piano manufacturing – including method, materials, and workmanship – to even the smallest differences such as the weather during the manufacturing process or the mood of the person assembling parts. In short, all pianos are not the same, even pianos made in the same factory, on the same day. When a technician voices a piano, they mainly concentrate on the hammers and strings of the piano. The objective is to create an evenness of tone, with clarity, projection, and the longest possible sustain.
Picture the piano like your car. There are many moving parts, all serving a specific function in order for the instrument to function properly. Inevitably, these parts break or malfunction and need repair. The pianos at the TELUS Centre, while frequently maintained, can develop minor problems and require fixing. Team RCM is responsible for maintenance and technical care of the pianos.
The more major problems with pianos require rebuilding. Over time, pianos develop structural issues that require repair or replacement of the soundboard, bridge, pinblock, and strings. Piano actions also may require rebuilding due to old, worn parts like hammers, hammershanks, repetitions, keybushings, and dampers. Team RCM rebuilds about two to four grand pianos on site each year in our piano shop.
The action, or moving parts of the piano, require many fine adjustments to provide the pianist with efficient transfer from the pianist’s touch to the piano’s production of sound. These components are adjusted in a specific order, part by part, note by note. When all of these parts are functioning properly together, the piano is regulated. There are about 35 steps involved in action regulation for each key, which means a technician has as many as 3,080 adjustments for one piano action. The goal is to produce an even regulation, so each note feels and performs with efficiency and consistency.
Proper care for pianos – including labour, parts, supplies, and tools – requires a significant financial commitment. The goal of the program is not only to maintain our fleet of instruments, but also to expand our current inventory to include a larger variety of pianos. Donations make our goal our reality. To learn more about donating to the piano technology program at The RCM, please contact .
The Royal Conservatory Piano Technology Program
TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning
273 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M5V 3Z1
Phone: 416.408.2824 x407
Students, teachers, and musicians who have an interest in how the piano works are all welcome to join a hands-on piano technology workshop taught by members of Team RCM. The workshops will be held once a week for ten weeks during the fall term, starting September 19. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 416.408.2824 x407 for more information.