A pitch for graduating students - following your passion is key

May 8, 2012

It's graduation season across the country, and students are deciding what they want to do with their lives.

Seventy-one-year-old Ernie Caviani is a piano tuner and technician. He says following your passion is key.

Michigan Radio producer Mercedes Mejia has this audio postcard.

Ernie Caviani: This A is vibrating at 220 beats per second. This A is supposed to vibrate, if it matches it at 440, it’s just twice as much.

In my lifetime I’ve tuned a little over 30,000 pianos.

And you can hear the beats going yayayayaya…And I want the same beat rate going from this A, F to A, to this F and this A, and that means that both the A’s are the same.

The first person I tuned for, now these are not just piano players but they’re in groups. Alice Copper doesn’t play the piano but he has a pianist and that was the first group I tuned for. Then it became Janis Joplin, and Harry Bellefonte, John Denver then the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, Seals and Croft, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and those are the big names in the popular field. And then there were the jazz artists, starting with Oscar Peterson, Keith Jerret, Herby Hancock, Chick Corea.

Chick Corea sat down and starting to play the piano. He didn’t play for more than five, six second and he just stopped, and to not one in particular he just said – nice piano….That made my day.

The fellow for John Denver jumping up and down, he was so happy. And he ran over to the promoter and said, “I don’t know what you’re paying this guy, but it’s not enough, double it.”

I came to Michigan School of Music in 1959. Really what I wanted to be was a world class trumpet player. But to my dismay I didn’t have the lip for it. I was decent but I wasn’t great. And then I took this class in tuning and technology from a German master and I liked it.

I’ve been tuning pianos for at least 45 years.

It allows me to express myself in a way, by tuning a piano and making it sing. And that’s how I define what I want from a piano when it’s in tune.

First of all when you when you are doing something, you have to find something you like, you have to make a commitment to it, and the third is you don’t quit. And that’s basically my secret of success.

The last tune in this piece is Ernie Caviani's original piece titled Prairie Man. Caviani is the house piano tuner for Kerrytown Concert Hall, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, The Arc - and the list goes on.