Will Dwindling Supply Of Trained Piano Tuners Also Threaten Arts Orgs

Caught a timely article from The Guardian about the dwindling number of piano tuners in Australia. I am fairly certain arts and cultural organizations in other countries are having a similar experience when trying to schedule piano tuners. Personally, I have been in a situation where we had a choice of two-three tuners which dwindled to one that lives a two hour drive away and covers a large geographic area.

I am not sure what the situation is in the US and other countries, but people interviewed for the article note that there aren’t a lot of training programs in the country and a lack of effort to make people aware that training opportunities exist. It isn’t a profession that is entered lightly.

“People think, ‘I’ll learn to tune a piano, I’ll do it in a year and that’s it’, but no, it takes 10 years to learn how to tune a piano, and 20 years to master it,” Kinney says.

The training takes even longer for piano technicians who do broader work on repairing and refurbishing pianos. Tuning can only do so much before the instrument needs a major overhaul.

By “good tuners”, Kinney means piano technicians. These are people who have undergone a year of training as piano tuners before developing their skills at international piano factories or with mentors, learning action regulation, voicing, diagnosis and complex problem solving.


When Scott Davie, an Australian concert pianist, has toured through Australia, he’s played regional shows where the pianos had been tuned but not properly maintained. When this is the case, he must work hard to alter the way he plays to finish the show.

“I’d be remembering which notes are going out of tune and which notes are really badly out of tune, and leaving them out of chords or trying to play them so softly that you couldn’t hear them,” he says. “But it gets to a point where it sounds horrible, if a piano is really starting to break down.”

This article made me think–we are hearing about all the arts organizations that are closing or having a difficult time, but there are other elements of the infrastructure that are probably being overlooked that may cause on going issues as well.

Give A Kid A Culture Voucher And They Buy Books As Well As Experiences

I have been keeping an eye on the cultural voucher programs various European countries employ to encourage young people to get out and engage in different experiences. The program differ in detail. There are some that provide rail passes to allow people to explore different geographic areas, including outside their own countries. Others are focused on arts and cultural experiences within the country.  I have written about Germany’s KulturPass before, but I recently caught a story about the most recent round of the program.

According to a recent article, as of August 9, in terms of units purchased since this year’s KulturPass program began on June 14, books and other printed materials have lead the way by far.  Then cinema tickets, concerts and theater, museums and parks, musical instruments, audio media and then sheet music.  In all, about 200,000 units have been purchased in the last two months. About 136,000 German 18 year olds have activated the passes worth €200 (US$219)

In terms of amount spent, concerts and theater lead the way given the greater cost. “….at something around or above €12 million (US$13.2); books follow with so €11 million (US$12.7 million); and cinema tickets follow in third place with €461,000 or more (US$505,900).”

Lest you think Germans are particularly bookish with 49% of voucher funds being used to purchase tomes, Italy has seen similar results with their pass.

“…Italy’s corresponding “18App”—the original “culture voucher” for young citizens in Europe. There, in 2021 specifically, the publishers association reported that 18-year-old Italians were spending 80 percent of their €500 vouchers on books during January and February of that year.”

Obviously, there may be differences in the design and implementation of the pass in Italy that encouraged larger purchases of books. The fact these numbers come from a period 10 months into the Covid pandemic when there were reduced opportunities for other activities likely influences the numbers as well. However, these programs are good examples of a tool to provide bottom up funding to provide a little stimulation to arts and culture organizations.

When Trying To Break Boundaries Threatens To Break Your Spirit

Last week on the Association of Performing Arts Professional’s (APAP) podcast, Emily Isaacson of Classical Uprising talked about some of the frustrating experiences she has had trying to advance her goal of changing the context through which classical music is viewed and experienced.

One of the biggest impediments she has experienced was the view that she isn’t a serious artists because she is a woman and a mother. She shared, apparently for the first time publicly, that a family friend whom she had known since she was a child asked her to partner on creating a music festival, but when they got together to plan their second season, he dismissed her efforts and professionalism.

“He started to call me randomly to tell me that I would never be taken seriously as a musician that because I was a mom, I was distracted that if I thought that my degrees were worth anything, I was kidding myself because real musicians don’t care about degrees,. That I made, I was making a fool of myself on the podium.”

She said the conversation got a lot worse from there. She said she has run up against similar sentiments regarding other programming she has done:

So people wanna label me as a woman conductor, and that’s my whole soapbox. The other thing is they say, “Oh, well, the fact that she wants to do, you know, Hayden’s creation in a park must mean that she’s really not that sophisticated a musician. She’s doing it differently because she can’t hang with the big boys and the old club and you know, this, that, and the other thing.”

Or like, “Oh, isn’t it cute that she wants to do things that are not just four kids, but intergenerational because she’s a mom and so focused on being a mommy and mommy music”, …

I’m advocating for a different way of presenting and producing classical music, so that it is more social and more interactive and more casual, in the way that actually it was originally conceived.

The other thing she says she runs into is the echo chamber type thinking among different organizations. She talks about how when she attended the 2023 APAP conference, she struck up a conversation with the representative of an organization promoting a Breaking Boundaries series. She was somewhat disappointed to learn that their concept of breaking boundaries was presenting works by female composers one year and works by minority composers the next year. This essentially mirrored what so many other orchestra organizations were doing.

I’m good quick on my feet, so I pivoted and I was like, “Another way that you could think about like pushing boundaries, is by thinking about like who we’re performing for, how we’re performing and what, what are the things that we include in the performance that make people feel either included to be there or more connected to the music than they did before?” And I start giving examples from my programs about, doing Flight of the Bumble Beer where you do music flights alongside five-ounce pours of beer or doing Bach Bends Yoga.

Like really, here’s some like con this is not lofty ideas. Here’s some concrete ideas and this person could just not understand what I was talking about. That was so frustrating for me because it made me realize that the national conversation and the conversation that I’m trying to have is just ships passing in the night…

You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript to learn more. Isaacson starts the episode so her story is easy to find.

Is Bottom Up Funding Of The Arts The Next Business Model?

There was another editorial about how the arts should be funded that is getting a lot of notice this week. You may recall I had posted about Isaac Butler’s editorial in the NY Times a couple weeks ago calling for greater public funding of the arts.  This week novelist, playwright and screenwriter Monica Byrne advocated for a bottom up funding model in the Washington Post.

She notes that the artists often get short shrift when it comes to attention and funding. When organizations get funded, it is often administrators and buildings which benefit before the artists do. She doesn’t specifically call for increased federal funding. Given that the culture wars of the 80s basically ended NEA funding of individual artists, that is probably a non-starter. Instead, she is advocating for the creation of works to be driven by artists who decide where to site their performances rather than the venue deciding what they want to do and then contracting artists.

For theater, as we know it, to have any future at all, a new economic model must take its place, founded on a simple principle: fund artists directly. Then let the artists produce their own work, rent their own venues and pay their own collaborators.


It’s true that scaling down would mean prioritizing certain kinds of theater over others. But this is the case in every era: Some aesthetics thrive while others die out. Instead of a world in which you pay astronomical prices to see another tired revival from the mezzanine, imagine there are a dozen theater cells in your area, performing new work in backyards and parks and city squares and empty storefronts. Art that is fresh, fluid, immediate, accessible and affordable — to make and to see — all because we collectively decided to fund the artists directly.

Is there any place for existing nonprofit theaters in this model? Sure. Reshape them into direct granting agencies and public resources somewhat like libraries, offering artists and companies production slots on a lottery basis…It would also mean that existing artistic directors understand that, not only are they not the ordained curators of culture, they are only useful to the art form insofar they serve artists — the creators of the form.

Anyone have any thoughts on this? The idea of turning theaters into public resources like libraries is interesting on paper. If non-profits were in a place to provide advice and support about audience cultivation and marketing practices attuned to the local conditions, that could be a valuable resource. Though my concern would be that we might end up having the same conversations we currently are about funders having priorities that are out of synch with the changing needs of the operating environment. It may not start out that way, but I could see things creeping toward “arts need to be run like a business” as staff turned over, etc.