Vince Mrykalo has worked as a piano technician for 38 years, the last nine in the School of Music. He uses both aural and electronic means to tune the 103 pianos there. FYI had the opportunity to speak with him about his work at the U.
FYI NEWS: What’s a typical day like for you?
VINCE MRYKALO: I might tune the two nine-foot pianos in Libby Gardner Hall in the morning, and the seven-foot Hamburg piano in Dumke after that; then fill the dehumidifiers in the pianos used for teaching (so the pianos will stay in pitch). Then I might tune pianos in various practice rooms, classrooms, or studios, and leave a little time for pulling out a grand action (a grand piano’s action mechanism), and, using a voicing tool, probe the hammers with needles to soften those that have become too hard from heavy playing (called “voicing). Then I’ll adjust the action parts to each other, which get out of adjustment because of wear (called “regulation”).
FYI: Where did you learn to tune pianos?
MRYKALO: I started with a one-year correspondence course in 1972, then apprenticed for six months while working at a Baldwin piano dealership in Howell, New Jersey. I joined the Piano Technicians Guild in 1976 where I have taken literally hundreds of classes on specific piano technical subjects. I completed training at several different piano factories—Baldwin, Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, and the Kawai Shiguru factory. It’s an ongoing learning experience.
FYI: What’s the most common problem you encounter when tuning pianos?
MRYKALO: Other than being out of tune, the most common problem is the action (mechanism) being out of adjustment, causing the player to be unable to fully control the sound. Ninety-nine percent of the pianos I see outside of the University need cleaning under the keys and inside the action.
FYI: What’s the most surprising?
MRYKALO: What is most surprising is also most delightful—a piano that stays in tune after one year! There are not many that do, but I have run into a couple. They had two things in common: they were older, and they were all very well taken care of, meaning they were tuned and serviced regularly.
FYI: How long does it typically take to tune one piano?
MRYKALO: That depends on how out of tune they are. A piano that needs to be tuned for a concert, but was tuned just one week prior, might take 20 minutes. A piano that gets tuned once every 10 years (whether it needs it or not) might take up to two hours. Normally a piano takes a little more than one hour to tune.
FYI: How often are they tuned?
MRYKALO: It varies. A concert or recital piano will be tuned at a minimum once every week. A practice piano should be tuned once each semester. (It doesn’t always happen. I work 30 hours a week and the load I carry should be handled by one full time and one part time piano technician, which means there are 60 hours of work to be done each week.)
FYI: What brands of piano does the school have?
MRYKALO: We are an all-Steinway school, which means that 80 percent of all the pianos in the school are Steinway, including all concert and recital pianos. The remaining 20 percent are Yamaha, Kawai, Baldwin, Mason & Hamlin, Bosendorfer, and Everett.
FYI: I understand the school ranks the different pianos. Can you explain?
MRYKALO: We rank them in order of importance. That is, there are concert and recital pianos, then piano faculty teaching pianos, then practice room pianos for the piano majors, other studio or faculty pianos, classroom pianos, and last, the practice room uprights.
FYI: What do you like most about your job?
MRYKALO: The people I work with. That’s No. 1. The quality of the pianos I work on is also very enjoyable.
FYI: What do you like most about working at the University of Utah?
MRYKALO: The people and the physical surroundings, which bring to mind some of the historical campuses found back east. I love history.
Vince Mrykalo has a B.A. in music and studied music composition as an undergraduate. He played piano, tuba, and bass in the ’60s and ’70s. Today, he listens to jazz and classical music, “and oh, yes, some ’60s and ’70s rock.”