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An old-world art is revived in an all-new form.

Even in Beethoven's day, a good piano technician was hard to find. But two centuries on?

Fine craftsmanship in everything from woodcarving to glassblowing is as rare in today's techno-crazed world as a well-made, domestic handmade cigar.

And yet, the piano—that grande Italian invention of the 18th century—defies the pitiless superficiality of popular culture to remain the defining icon of truly civilized life. Countless thousands of the instruments are priceless heirlooms lovingly passed through generations on all continents. To these numbers are added dozens of new pianos each year that are exquisitely designed and built to technical standards that haven't wavered much, if any, in a century.

But who's taking care of all these supremely temperamental instruments with all their fancy classical pedigrees? The short answer: Far too few who really know what they're doing.

For decades now, a shortage of academically attuned piano specialists has been recognized as a worldwide phenomenon. The need is apparently not driven by a lack of qualified piano tuners—although really good ones still may take some hunting in some parts. The truly endangered species in the field of extended care for pianos is the highly trained technologist who not only is skilled in piano performance but also is savvy to every technical, historical and cultural nuance of an instrument whose evolution has produced an astoundingly (some might say confoundingly) diverse family tree.

Ergo, the first graduate degree program in piano technology in North America opened last fall at Florida State.

The brainchild of Anne Garee, a faculty member in FSU's College of Music, the exclusive, new two-year masters program already is causing a buzz in the music industry.

And just how exclusive? The program is limited to only those rare students who are trained both as musicians and as technicians, says Garee, who structured the curriculum and the prerequisites based on her 25 years of experience in tuning and restoring pianos and teaching piano technology to students, teachers and professional pianists both here and overseas.

"We've designed this program to take the best primary training in piano technology now available anywhere and take it to the next professional level," Garee said.

College grads interested in applying for the program must first get a certificate in piano technology from one of a handful of schools that offer a nine-month resident training program. Supporters of FSU's music school have underwritten the program's start, and last summer, a $100,000 individual donation with $50,000 in matching funds from the state kicked off an endowment that Garee hopes to see keep growing.

By ushering applicants first through a residency program, Garee guarantees that they will arrive at FSU with the training, experience—and perhaps most important of all—the psychological bent necessary to succeed in a rarified field that demands far more from students than command of the formidable technical skills required.

First on the list of prerequisites is playing the instrument itself. All students must be musicians in their own right and demonstrate talent at the keyboard. For their piano technology training, students will take courses in such disciplines as chemistry, physics, geometry and engineering—all of which play critically important roles in the arcana of piano restoration, tuning and maintenance. Additionally, they're required to take a broad range of liberal arts classes typical of a master's of arts degree.

Students will also have the chance to conduct their own research with the latest tools in the field to analyze the various technical aspects of the instrument from acoustics to tone production.

With a physicist for a dad and a mom who was a professional pianist and music educator, Garee, a New York native, figures to have all the personal prerequisites befitting anyone at the helm of this one-of-a-kind program. Then there's the benefit of working in one of the nation's most well known places for advanced training in music, period.

Garee's students will get to live, train and work in a veritable piano archive—FSU's College of Music now boasts a total of 240 modern pianos—scattered across four performance halls and dozens of classrooms—plus a variety of vintage instruments that include four harpsichords, two clavichords, square grands and a fortepiano, the modern piano's 18th century precursor.

Garee said the program's primary goal is to provide the piano industry and academia with technicians with the highest skills possible in musicianship, technology and—what's this?—communication.

"These students will be musicians first," she said. "No matter how good you are at knowing the physics, the wood, the metal, the history and so forth that make up an instrument, the key to being successful in this field is being able to communicate to other musicians in terms they can understand."

Roll over, indeed, Herr Beethoven, and strike a chord to that. —C.S.     


 










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