What do Bruce Forsyth, Katie Melua, Victoria Wood and Sir Peter Pears have in common? Their piano tuner...
- Credit: Archant
Haunted pianos, naturists, celebrities and a wife as well. Pianos have given Peter Tryon, from Drinkstone in Suffolk, quite a life. He told Liz Nice all about it
The address, near Norwich, gave no clues.
There were large gates and an intercom.
Peter was admitted.
'I'm the piano tuner,' he said.
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'Excellent,' said the lady in the office. 'The members will be so pleased.'
He was led to a clubhouse.
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The hedges and lawns were neatly trimmed.
'What is this place?' Peter wondered.
The answer came as something of a shock.
A naturist camp? Help!
'Does this mean I'm expected to tune the piano naked?' Peter asked, with some hesitation.
There was a pause, then an entirely sensible reply: 'Well, you can if you wish, although I wouldn't recommend it in February. It's rather cold.'
This delightful anecdote is just one of many stories of Peter Tryon's 40 years as a piano tuner in his book The Steinway that wouldn't budge and other stories.
Peter, from Drinkstone, also worked for 33 years as a music, history and IT teacher at Beyton Middle School but has always tuned pianos on the side, a job which has given him access to some remarkable homes, many of which he continues to visit to this day. As he told me when we spoke last evening, 'I've done three today!'
Clearly a people person – several times I tried to get hold of him only to learn from his lovely wife, Glynis, that he was out helping someone or other, Peter told me that it was the people he had met over the years that had made the job so special.
Not least Glynis herself of course whom he met after becoming choirmaster at St Mary's Church in Bury St Edmunds in the early '80s.
'There was a young lad called Matthew in the choir who thought it would be funny to belch loudly during choir practice. I went around to see his mother, had a cup of tea and…we were married in 1983 at St Mary's!'
The couple share four sons now (Matthew, Adam, Thomas and Christopher) but their music tastes are not shared by Peter.
'Guns and Roses and something called… Gabba music,' he gasps in horror.
Peter's experiences, all recounted in hilarious detail in his book, include a battle with a labrador called Rigsby who kept biting off the piano leg, a toddler who weed in the instrument – 'Will it hurt the piano?' asked the lady. 'Well, it can't help,' came Peter's exasperated reply - and a 'haunted' piano which turned out to be the home of a large brown rat.
A real haunted piano which Peter describes as giving off very strange vibes turned out to have been an exhibit in a murder case at Norwich crown court.
'The person died after having their head smashed on it,' Peter's early piano supplier, a fascinating character called 'Smiffy' from Lowestoft, told him later.
Smiffy it turns out is the only person in the book whose name hasn't been changed.
'He insisted I keep it in!' Peter laughs.
Peter has tuned Katie Melua's piano, Bruce Forsyth's, Victoria Wood's ('such a lovely, shy lady, who came alive on stage) and Sir Peter Pears whose harpsichord was described afterwards as 'deliciously in tune!' – 'the only person to ever use that expression,' Peter says.
Perhaps the most memorable person he met, he told me, was (the Fison's boss) Sir George Burton.
He recalls: 'What a life! He had met everyone, even Hitler! (He called him 'an odious little man'.) It was an absolute honour to be in a room with him and hear his stories.'
Peter says of all the thousands of pianos he has tuned, there are only about 10 places he would never want to go back to. Some are in the book!
'The thing I love best is getting to know the families,' he says. 'To see a little girl of six starting out with her piano and becoming really good. To get a call to hear that she has done so well in her GCSEs. That's the kind of thing that makes the job worthwhile.'
Peter did return to the naturist camp to retune that piano again.
It turned out, and this is an absolutely true story, that there was a bit of a problem with the G-string!