Purdy finds joy in music while keeping pianos in tune
Five-thirty in the morning is generally a pretty quiet time on Ohio University’s campus – but not for Chris Purdy. That’s usually around the time he arrives in a recital hall to do his daily tuning of the grand pianos found there.
Every musician, whether they play a piano, guitar or even use their voice, uses an instrument. When using an instrument, maintenance and care are required. For the OHIO School of Music’s 116 pianos, that’s where Purdy comes in – he is Ohio University’s only piano technician.
Purdy was born in Ohio but attended Eastern Kentucky University majoring in music education. However, Purdy explains that in the late 70’s, the economy took a turn for the worse, causing job opportunities to disappear. He decided to study the mechanical side of music and received an associate degree in piano tuning and repair. This allowed him to stay in the field of music artistically and professionally.
Purdy is now working at OHIO, where he mentors and teaches students while maintaining every piano owned by the University. Since Purdy is the only technician, he has a busy schedule. Purdy comes into work any time between 5:30 and 6 a.m. to prep the pianos in the recital hall, since those are the pianos that get the most use and are constantly booked. The two grand pianos in the hall must be tuned before every recital. Purdy’s afternoons are spent teaching with his three students but last year, Purdy had six students he was teaching.
“I teach students in different ways. I have an independent study course, Honors Tutorial College students, work students and even students who get paid to learn,” Purdy said. “It’s hard enough to get training in this field but it’s even harder to get paid to learn. That’s why I am motivated to do it.”
Being the only piano technician while balancing teaching can be difficult. Purdy said the biggest challenge he has is that the pianos he tunes get played around 20 hours a day, which causes the piano to get worn much quicker, so he is doing major work that needs done every 10-15 years that usually only needs to be done every 50 years. Another challenge is that humidity has a huge effect on a piano staying in tune. When humidity changes drastically, so does the quality of the piano, so when there is a cold snap, he must go in and retune every single piano.
While Purdy’s job has challenges, it also has its share of benefits. Purdy gets to share his love of music and teach it to other students, which is one of his favorite parts of his job. He also gets to still work in music and is around musicians all day every day.
Student Andrea Tinajero said she has learned a lot from Purdy.
“I have learned a lot of things, but I think the biggest thing I have learned from him is listening and not just hearing,” Tinajero said. “He has taught me what to listen for when playing and to really push your ears to listen to what you want to hear. This program has also taught me patience and to know when to stop. We always joke about how as musicians we are OCD, which is a good and a bad thing. But I’ve learned you’re not going to be perfect.”
This program and what Purdy does for Ohio University is a great resource. According to Tinajero, Purdy is a super approachable person and loves to teach his students. He wants you to learn everything and to learn it well.
Purdy has added a lot to the Ohio University community. From teaching to piano maintenance, Purdy encourages all of Ohio University to investigate this program and to better understand the art and necessity of piano technicians.