In a quiet home, a piano tuner repeatedly strikes each key of a classic Heintzman upright circa 1925, listening intently and adjusting the tuning hammer wrench ever so slightly. Alex Thiessen of Oak Lake is a musician who, as a Registered Piano Technician, earns a living for his family tuning and repairing pianos.
“My motivation for becoming a piano technician was born out of a love for music and the enjoyment of working with my hands,” says Thiessen.
In 2006, as a cello player enrolled in Brandon University’s performance program he unexpectedly found his niche working with RPT Mark Cramer in BU.
“I had just completed my last full length recital and was still wearing my tux and tails when I decided to stroll over to Mark’s office and ask for a job.”
Cramer cautioned the student.
“He took it in stride and immediately told me that I didn’t want to work for him. When I asked him why, he replied with a smirk ‘I’ll be mean to you’.
“‘How so?’ I asked him.
“‘If you don't do a task with the amount of precision that I want, I'll make you do it again,’ he said.
“I fired back that as a musician that was par for the course. We lock ourselves in a room and work on a passage or piece for hours on end, that doesn’t sound a whole lot different to me.”
This began a friendship and a valuable working relationship whereby Thiessen apprenticed for nine years under Mark Cramer, who works at Brandon University and is a Registered Piano Technician.
Thiessen successfully completed the RPT exams, in August of 2016. The Piano Technicians Guild has created a series of three standardized tests which include a written exam, a technical exam in which field repairs and technical work are judged, and a tuning exam in which no less than three RPTs carefully assess and compare an examinee’s tuning to a pre-recorded master tuning.
After completing these rigorous requirements, the time came to spread his wings, and Cramer gently pushed the young tuner out of the nest, encouraging Thiessen to start his own business.
Thiessen has chosen to continue to live in the Oak Lake community with his wife Gabrielle and their four sons Indiana, Aleksei, Bennett and Judah, where they home school and enjoy the country.
Now, over a year into his own business, working on the old Heintzman, Thiessen remarks on its quality.
From the heaviest bass string to the finest treble, he will tune each of the 88 keys, about 230 individual strings of steel wire in all. Tuning the “A” above “middle C” to 440 Hz, all other keys are tuned in relationship to that reference point.
Tiny adjustments tighten or loosen each string and make the difference between pleasure of a true note, and slight discomfort of discord.