May 17-19, 2016
After my short but full stay in Cartagena, I flew into New York City. I was excited to return to the Floating Piano Factory home base, catch up with friends, and re-discover the beauty of this town. While I was there, I stayed with friends in Long Island, a couple that I came to know through a long chain of music-related moments…
Songwriting in Chicago
Just before I moved to New York in 2009, I had been living in my home town, Chicago. I had saved up some money. I moved in with my family to spend some time focused on artistic work, specifically exploring musical composition. I was tuning pianos and playing music here and there, but wasn’t part of any formal band. Mostly, I was jamming on instrumental jazz with various people.
One day, a few years prior, a friend of mine put on a song I’d never heard before. It was really emotionally charged—almost too much. I thought: “Is this emo?” From my preconceptions, I didn’t think I would have liked this genre but this music piqued my interest. I asked her who it was, and that was the day I discovered Conor Oberst, the singer/songwriter of Bright Eyes.
Inspired by my surprising interests and a desire to explore lyrical music, I decided I wanted to work on songwriting—a new sonic direction for me. I launched my Daily Wiki Music project, in which I wrote a new song every day based on the Wikipedia Article of the Day. It was a lot of fun, and I grew a ton, but I was still doing it all on my own.
Bandmates and Neuroscientists
One day, I saw a Craigslist ad for a band that needed a keyboard player. I had never seen any musical opportunities that were too interesting on Craigslist, but again something caught my attention—partly because this group had toured with Bright Eyes. A connection. I decided to reach out, so we met for an audition and immieditely hit it off. After that, I spent the next year or two gigging and touring with Head of Femur.
Around that time, I was also becoming interested in neuroscience—really interested. I was reading serious books on the topic, attending department lectures at the University of Chicago and trying to decipher the lingo, studying for the GRE, etc. I was ready to look for a volunteer opportunity in a lab. After I played a gig with Head of Femur at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York, I saw an interesting article someone had written about our show. The author, Erick, talked about several neuroscientists at the performance, including his wife, Hillary. Another connection.
I got in touch with them, and we eventually became friends, and Hillary showed me around a neuroscience lab on my first visit to New York. I didn’t join her lab but she has always been a wonderful source of support in my pursuit of learning about science. Erick is an anthropologist who spent time doing extensive field research on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. That is to say, he knows what it’s like to uproot your life and live in a different setting like I have here in Peru. It can be a bit isolating. But, sometimes when you move away you get an opportunity to get closer to the friends you keep in touch with while your gone. Erick and Hillary are two of those great friends for me.
Now, years later, I was coming from Peru to visit them again.
Floating Piano Technicians
Though we meet often via video chat, I hadn’t seen the team at Floating Piano Factory in person since October of last year. We’d hired new people during my absence that I would be meeting in person for the very first time on this trip.
For instance, Tom was hired in December. Shortly afterwards, we found out the Wall Street Journal wanted to write an article about us. I have to admit, I was a little nervous about that article—the reporter would not be meeting with me, but with Tom, whom I’d only spoken to over FaceTime chats!
Fortunately, Tom is a great addition to the team, and the interview went really well. He tuned a piano for the reporter, and we were all very happy to receive some serious praise in that article.
With me in NYC now, we spent some time together as a team, talking about tuning techniques and action regulation. We took advantage of the in-person time to tackle some hands-on training that, as you can image, gets a little tricky over the internet. I’m proud to call these intrepid tuners my friends and colleagues.
Tom is a jazz saxophonist. Flying Dragon, his 17-piece jazz orchestra is active in the NYC music scene. His compositions have been played and commissioned all over the globe. He loves to make cocktails, be outdoors and root for his favorite pro soccer teams. This trip I got to meet his girlfriend and I found out that she works in the world of science journalism. Of course he would have a cool girlfriend too.
Daniel has some unique musical tastes. He has an extensive record collection in all types of genres. He likes studying traditional British folk music but he also knows how to rock. He’s played guitar and bass and has studied jazz piano. Despite his quiet demeanor he’s also a bandleader, composer and performer. Daniel is a super genuine guy and he does great work. Daniel is a real pleasure to be around.
Bimol started playing piano at a young age—around six. Then it was a Russian teacher that gave him an ear and a feel for fine classical music. He stopped studying piano for many years and pursued a career as a chemical engineer. But when we met him he was again focused on progressing as a classical musician. He’d taken it seriously enough to put his engineering career on hold. He’s a vegan and likes to cook. He loves to welcome guests into his house. He’s a really friendly fellow and works well on a team. His attitude reminds me to enjoy life and try to connect on a human level with the people I serve and work with.
Rediscovering New York
I was surprised by how warm the weather was in New York. It’s strange, I suppose, no longer knowing what the weather is like in the place you call home.
Bimol and I had scheduled time for the team to work on tuning at his house, but he had also invited me to go rock climbing later that day. He had a page turning gig at Lincoln center in the meantime. I had a little time to kill, so what to do? I realized that the subway I needed next was just on the other side of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. For a modest admission fee I could take a long, relaxing shortcut through the grounds.
We all have these kinds of spots near our homes. Places that out-of-town visitors always go to see, but that we’ve somehow never been to. In all my time in New York, I’d never visited the gardens. It took me moving away, then returning as a tourist before I finally got around to checking this place out. It was really wonderful.
We often paint travel as an idyllic, magical dream. It’s all about hopping on planes and trains and exploring the unknown. Yes, it’s fun and interesting, but as I found on this trip, there’s a lot of challenges as well. You don’t know the languages and customs, you get sick, you get lost, things go awry.
Still, I think traveling helps me to appreciate things in a new way. Everything in Peru that’s commonplace for locals seems new and exciting to me. Now, returning to Brooklyn after my time away, I was seeing my own city with new eyes. I thought, “New York is so beautiful!” walking through the gardens, heading to the subway, I’d never seen this place in exactly the way I was seeing it now.
About this series: Floating piano has come to be internationally known, and thanks to the internet we’re getting inquiries worldwide about our top-rated apprenticeship program. This has inspired us to try to connect with international piano lovers in person via some transcontinental traveling. Eathan Janney, lead technician and founder of FPF will be visiting Peru to search for human connections through pianos. Meanwhile our star apprentices Daniel DiMaggio, Bimol Karmaker and Tom Erickson are manning the ship at home in NYC, ready to tune your piano to the highest standards.
As a “Goodwill” Ambassador, FPF assigns itself the task of connecting with piano owners in various locations and exploring the histories of their pianos. We will document these adventures and stories, and as a gesture of good will, offer to tune the pianos for free. Piano tuning is our business, but we are also fascinated with the non-transactional aspects of a piano tuning visit: the interaction with a piano owner, the sharing of music, the caring for an object that has a life history of its own. Music is a global phenomenon that exists outside of the physical, political, and national boundaries that may separate us. We would like to highlight these factors by making connections through pianos and sharing these stories with you.
Special thanks to playwright Chad Eschman for collaborating on this post.