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On the Job

Piano tuner strikes a chord in people’s lives

Artie Doran last month tuned his own piano, a 1911 Mason & Hamlin AA Grand. Doran has been a piano tuner for four decades, ever since his mother helped him go to a school to learn how to tune pianos.
Artie Doran last month tuned his own piano, a 1911 Mason & Hamlin AA Grand. Doran has been a piano tuner for four decades, ever since his mother helped him go to a school to learn how to tune pianos.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Every piano has its secrets and stories to tell. That’s why Natick piano tuner Artie Doran is never surprised to find mice nests, cellphones, wedding rings, $100 bills — and every once in a while, an Indian head nickel. “Life goes on around the piano,” said Doran, who estimates he’s tuned more than 40,000 pianos, including for players such as Tony Bennett, Carole King, Herbie Hancock, and Tori Amos. Doran spoke about his career in music.

“There are over 10,000 parts in a piano and roughly 230 strings. Things break, wear, or become misaligned — and not just the keyboard, but also the pedal, and even the bench.

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“The dominant piano brand in this area is Yamaha, and after that it runs the gamut to Steinway, Baldwin, and even some exotic instruments like Bösendorfer from Vienna. Tuning a piano is not like fixing a copier — what I do affects people on a very deep emotional level.

“I tuned a piano the other day, played to test it out, and when I was done, I turned and my client had tears in his eyes. There are so many memories wrapped up in a piano. It’s a good day for me if I can touch someone to [a] level that it makes them cry.

“I often play a song I composed called ‘Letting Go’ that I wrote to play at my mother’s memorial service. Both my parents were musicians, and my mother was a professional pianist. When I was just 16 years old, she helped me go to a school to learn how to tune the piano. I’ve been doing it for four decades ever since.

“I like to play ‘Letting Go’ because it lets my mother know that I’m still doing what she helped me to do.”


Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy@cindyatoji.com.

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