IN EVERY FIELD of endeavor are those who become prominent by virtue of their excellent work. Others stand out because of their passion for what they do and their ability to inspire those around them. And the very best are both excellent and inspirational. Los Angeles piano rebuilder David Andersen is equal parts passion and excellence, and his personal story is as inspirational as they come.
"I always had 'big ears,'" says Andersen. "My sense of pitch and tone developed early. My mother was a very good pianist, and as a child I would lie under the piano as she played, just soaking in the sound. I was considered a prodigy on the trombone, which I started playing at the age of 10. After only a couple of years I was playing in dance bands with high-school guys." Andersen's guitar-playing friends would have him tune their instruments because, when he did it, they just sounded better.
A cultural anthropology student at the University of Wyoming in the late 1960s, Andersen says he failed as a college student: "I have consistently failed upward throughout my life." After leaving school, he pursued a career as a musician playing in bands, but his life changed in a big way when he married and had a child. "I suddenly realized that if I continued playing music for a living, touring, being away at night, I would never see my family, wouldn't watch my daughter growing up."
In 1973, Andersen enrolled as a piano-technology student at a community college in Atlanta, Georgia. "I just resonated with my teacher. He told me I had a gift for this work, and that I was probably the most talented student he had ever taught." As Andersen's tuning skills developed, he made a living for several years tuning pianos at piano stores and for private clients in Atlanta and, later, Miami. "In 1980, I moved to Los Angeles because I was offered a record deal by an L.A. producer. He had heard one of my songs and felt that it would be a hit." After moving, Andersen completed the album. "It didn't sell," he says simply. "I knew I had to turn to my piano tuning in order to survive."
Andersen walked into the showroom of the local Steinway dealer. "Without anything to back it up, I told them that I was a great piano technician. They told me they had this new piano--right out of the crate--that needed to be completely prepped and tuned. I realized that I was seriously underprepared, so I went home and read everything I could lay my hands on about regulating and voicing, picked the brains of all my technician pals who were higher up the food chain than me, and went into the store and went to work on that piano. Somehow, I threw the net of illusion and scored a hefty gig. They started giving me clients. For the next half-dozen years, that store was 70% of my business."
When the Steinway dealership dramatically reduced its piano-prep hours in 1987, Andersen was forced to rely more on his private business. "I worked alone, and for a couple of years I didn't spend a lot of time with other technicians," he says. That changed abruptly in 1989, when Andersen had an experience he describes as "an epiphany." By this time, he recalls, "I had become a very good concert-prep technician, and an excellent tuner, regulator, and voicer. I'd prepared literally hundreds of Steinways of that era, and Asian instruments--all concert pianos. I'd just failed upward, and my on-the-job training had allowed me to become pretty sensitive and pretty diagnostically savvy. I'd had other technicians working under me at the warehouse, and had even gone to Korea a couple of times to try to get the quality control of some these instruments improved.
FALL 2009 -- page 61
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