Moonlighting

November 1, 2014

November is hunting season in upstate New York where my wife, Dorothea, and I have a home. And if it’s hunting season, then it’s time for our hunters to show up.

Several decades ago, three men—let’s call them Andrew, Bob, and Charlie—knocked on our door and politely introduced themselves. They told us that they worked as policemen in nearby Albany, New York, and asked whether they could hunt on our property. They offered to keep an eye on our place when we were gone and throw some venison our way if they had any luck. All three were very friendly and personable guys, and the mouth-watering thought of venison sausage with our morning eggs or venison steak along with the evening veggies proved irresistible.

We gave them the go-ahead to hunt on our steeply wooded hill.

I don’t think a single season has since gone by without the hunter’s November appearance and I always look forward to our friendly chats. I talk to them about playing the violin for a living and they talk to me about robberies, drug busts, and general mayhem in the inner city. And as often as not, a package of venison, or two, or three will be handed to us.

The hunters appear every year like clockwork, but one November stands out in my mind for the conversation I had with Charlie.

Charlie: “I see you have an upright piano in your studio.”

Arnold: “That’s right.”

Charlie: “Would you like me to tune it?”

Arnold: “What?”

Charlie: “Would you like me to tune it? It looks like a good piano, maybe a Steinway.”

Arnold: “It is a Steinway. But wait just a minute. You’re a cop. You deal with criminals, con artists, and lowlifes. How on earth do you know about pianos?”

I’ve known quite a few piano tuners and piano technicians over the years—among them a distinguished composer, a philosopher, a devout Buddhist, and a professional French horn player. But a cop?

I was flabbergasted. Along with learning how to shoot a gun, restrain a suspect, and apply handcuffs properly, did the Albany Police Academy also offer courses in piano tuning?

I demanded an explanation, which Charlie graciously supplied.

Charlie’s parents separated when he was young and his dad—let’s call him Fred—soon found himself in another relationship. The new lady in his life—let’s call her Alice—told him that she played the piano, and Fred thought it would be a great idea to buy her one as a surprise birthday present. Fred knew absolutely nothing about pianos, but he looked in the local paper’s classified ads and found one selling for fifty dollars. So he bought the piano, a very old upright and, with the help of a friend, lugged it in his pickup truck to his lady’s place.

In his ignorance, Fred thought that Alice was going to love it. But Alice did not love it. The piano was horribly out of tune, some of the keys and strings were missing, and its sound was small and tinny. Alice ordered the piano banished from her house and poor Fred suddenly had a very large piece of junk on his hands.

Not to worry, dear reader. Fred cleaned, sanded, and varnished the upright’s exterior, asked one hundred dollars for it in the same classified ads where he had bought it, and sold the piano for his asking price by the very next week. Now Fred suddenly saw dollar signs before his eyes if only he could learn how to repair and tune pianos.

No problem.

He sent away for a Learn- How-To-Tune-A-Piano-By-Mail course, and within months Fred was making enough money buying, selling, and tuning pianos to consider quitting his day job.

What’s good for the father is good for the son. Fred taught his son, Charlie, how to tune pianos and told him that come what may in life, Charlie would always be able to depend on this skill for a source of extra income.

Charlie looked up at me, smiled, and asked once again: “So, would you like me to tune your piano?”

albany-police-badge

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Comments

  1. From Chin Kim on November 1, 2014

    so did he tune it, and how was it?

  2. From David Russell on November 1, 2014

    Loved this one! Last year I played recitals in Paris, Cordoba and Marbella with a wonderful pianist whose “day gig” is with the FBI. When we prepare for recitals we always try to arrange rehearsals in a location where we can hunt during the process. (Gourmet venison recipes exchanged). It goes something like this: We hunt in the early morning, come in for breakfast, then rehearse until about 3:00. Then, we go out again for the evening hunt. If we are not successful– we pay the price with more rehearsal. ;-)

    One story from the road: During the Cordoba recital, a TV station showed up unannounced and filmed a bit as we performed— and to add insult to injury– put the clip on youtube without permission. Yipes! But– the real story is that the pianist apparently held a security clearance that meant the Feds always want to know details regarding his foreign travel. Within 24 hours, the video had found its way back to the FBI— who was so highly amused at seeing their colleague in this concert setting rather than in his usual persona that they sent it on up the chain to the Director! Smiles all around! haha

  3. From Carlos Cabezas on November 1, 2014

    This one is a great story Maestro… so much fun!!! ;-)

  4. From SuzyR on November 1, 2014

    Wonderful story! I like that badge, too. My hunch is that you politely refused Charlie’s offer to tune your piano.

  5. From Hava Beller on November 2, 2014

    It seems we all are hanging there to find out what was the next step in this delightful story (“Cops and Pianos”.) What did you say? What did he do? (or didn’t.)
    So it seems a new story is just about to be born.(Loved the Badge.)

  6. From Maru Rangel on November 2, 2014

    Dear Arnold: I only can say is that the best dinner i had ever with you and Dorothea was with venison steaks at Chatham! The complete story of this wonderful gourmet event with music is unique!
    Love, Maru

  7. From Anne on November 3, 2014

    Dear Arnold,
    It seems that you, too, have a second career. I really enjoy your stories.

  8. From Lien on November 3, 2014

    Dear Mr. Steinhardt,

    This story is so fun! … never know what people have under their sleeves ;-) … my guess is you didn’t let him tune but i love to hear the outcome :-). Best regards.

  9. From Letty Cottin Pogrebin on November 5, 2014

    Love this story, Arnold, and like your other readers, I, too, await the denouement. (I’ve never had venison; is it gamey?)
    Meanwhile, it reminds me of the ice fishers who set up little camps on our frozen lake every winter. They drive their trucks out on the ice, make fires, and have family get togethers while awaiting a bite from the fish swimming around under the surface.
    Two winters ago, my husband and I and two of our grandkids approached one pair of fishers and asked them a million questions, not just what were they fishing for but, “How do you know when the ice is thick enough to drive on?” “How do you know where the fish are?” “How can you make fires on the ice and not fear the warmth melting it eventually?” “Has anyone ever fallen in?”
    They patiently answered our questions. Soon our toes got numb and we trudged back to our lakefront home on our snowshoes. They must have watched which house we returned to because just as it was getting dark, our doorbell rang and our fisher friends brought us the best of their catch, some beautiful bass, which our son-in-law promptly fried up for our dinner. My fork has known no fresher fish!

  10. From Arnold on November 11, 2014

    I refused Charlie’s kind offer to tune my piano since we already had a local tuner doing an excellent job. How well would Charlie have tuned the piano? I guess I’ll never know.

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March 5, 2009

Genie in a Bottle

I ran into the violinist, Jennifer Koh, not long ago. Jenny is a highly gifted young musician who happens to have a keen interest in string players of old. At some point, our conversation turned to Yehudi Menuhin, one of the great violinists of the twentieth century. We talked about Menuhin’s instantly recognizable style, the [...]
A Brush with Fame

February 8, 2009

The Brush With Fame

Ah, Los Angeles! So-called city of angels, a place where the sun shines almost always, where palm trees flourish, a place that knows no winter-in short the city where I was born and raised. But in my adolescence, Los Angeles was much more than a hedonist’s playground. Thanks to the movie industry, the balmy weather, [...]
New Years Thoughts

January 1, 2009

New Year’s Thoughts

A drawing in the New Yorker magazine several years ago depicted a tawdry back alley with a few empty cans and bottles strewn about. The caption above read: Life without Mozart. Its message apparently affected many of us. I saw the drawing on peoples’ desks, walls, and refrigerator doors for years afterward. As a member [...]
The Swan

December 1, 2008

The Swan

When I was eleven years old, my violin teacher assigned me The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns. I had no idea that The Swan was a famous cello solo or that it was part of a much larger work, The Carnival of the Animals. I had never even heard of its composer, Saint-Saëns, or seen his [...]
Mr. Oliver

November 10, 2008

Mr. Oliver

I enrolled in a music appreciation class when I was a high school student. Near the beginning of the semester, the teacher of the class took ill and a substitute, Mr. Oliver, replaced him. Mr. Oliver knew his subject well. He played us everything on the school record player from Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony to Peruvian [...]
Tooth Talk

October 8, 2008

Tooth Talk

I was having my teeth cleaned by the dental hygienist the other day when she offhandedly asked whether my children were also in the music industry. Fortunately, with my mouth wide open and filled with dental gear, I was only capable of answering with a few rather inarticulate and muffled noises. Otherwise, I might have [...]
What Good is Music

September 11, 2008

What Good is Music?

[Originally written and published in September 2002]. I lost no loved ones on 11 September 2001, nor was my home destroyed or my work affected in any palpable way by the tragic attack on our nation; and yet, the events of that morning have prodded me to look inward and take personal inventory. As a [...]
A Tale of Three Violinists

August 10, 2008

A Tale of Three Violinists

I stood in the artist’s dressing room, warming up nervously before my sole rehearsal with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. For a twenty-two-year-old violinist just starting a career, performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with this distinguished group of musicians was an important engagement. My palms were sweating, my heart beat rapidly, and I began to pace back [...]
Last Words to a Son

July 11, 2008

Last Words to a Son

Andrea, the head nurse at the assisted living home where my mother has lived for many years, called last month to tell me that mother had stopped eating, that she was drifting in and out of consciousness, and that she was failing rapidly. The next day, my son Alexej and I flew to Southern California [...]
A Dog's Tale

June 12, 2008

A Dog’s Tale

I’m a wonderful teacher. I know, you don’t have to tell me. It’s not nice to brag. But truth above all, I always say. Here. Let me show you why I’m so good. We have a dog named Tessa. As far as I can tell, Tessa doesn’t have much feeling for music one way or [...]
Remembering Izzy

May 10, 2008

Remembering Izzy

Photo by Allen Cohen Every one of us has to die. We know that. We also know that sooner or later all of us will be forgotten. Even Einstein. Even Beethoven. Nevertheless, we humans doggedly strive for meaning in our lives and harbor the secret (or not so secret) wish to accomplish something of sufficient [...]
A Noteworthy Day

March 2, 2008

A Noteworthy Day

I heard a great deal of music yesterday. Let me rephrase that. Yesterday, I heard a multitude of sounds—some longer, some shorter, higher or lower, louder or softer—as I made my way through my waking hours. The sounds appeared sometimes as individual tones and sometimes in groups of two and three. They often repeated themselves [...]
Solo Bow

February 2, 2008

Solo Bow

The Guarneri String Quartet played a concert in Wisconsin several years ago. Why do I remember that this particular concert was in Wisconsin? Probably because Wisconsin is a cheese-making state and a delicious selection of cheese was set out at the after-concert party. It’s funny what details remain vibrant in one’s mind, especially in light [...]
In the Key of Strawberry

January 1, 2008

In the Key of Strawberry

An unexpected thought interrupted the sentence I was reading in the morning newspaper, followed by several other thoughts in quick succession. I had just remembered last night’s dream: My wife, Dorothea, and I were riding on a bus in a foreign country. Through the window we espied an open-air flea market with an array of [...]
Hiroshi Iizuka

December 1, 2007

Cousin Sam

“How much time you giving me today, maestro?” This was more or less the way Sam began most of our phone conversations. Sam Schloss was my cousin, more specifically: my mother’s mother’s sister’s son. I would usually call him during a break in one of the open rehearsals the Guarneri String Quartet held during its [...]