Barnwell and the Lost Chord

Steven Harris

From Stevenage to Steinways? Not quite, but I thought about pianos when Barnwell’s careers teacher – Mr English, the science teacher in disguise or doubling up – asked me what I wanted to do as I was approaching sixteen years of age.

I think I flummoxed him, but having once been allowed by Mr Plumridge to stay and watch a man in the music block tune one of the pianos, I had no real idea of what he was doing but it flashed in my mind: pianos will always need tuning. So that’s what I put forward, not that I really wanted to leave school, yet with only achieving a grade 4 CSE in woodwork, and not much else, there was little prospect of being allowed to stay on. For the flummoxed Mr English it must have been like going in search of the lost chord, but he rather valiantly said he’d go and find out about possible courses for me.

He returned a week or two later – how he found out in pre-internet days I don’t know – and mentioned the London College of Furniture in east London, which was an odd name for a place running piano tuning and maintenance courses. I got an interview! I failed the interview, or at last was asked to reapply after a year’s wait.

I never did learn piano tuning at that college, this was partly because my home in Stevenage was a foster home and it was deemed time for me to move out and get a job, any job. Fortunately, I soon found myself living in London and somehow managed to get a position as a trainee piano tuner/technician at Harrods (for away from the fancy departments and public they also had various workshops, one being a piano restoration workshop).

It would take some years, but eventually I found myself out on the road tuning pianos for their wealthy and, sometimes, famous customers – quite an eye-opener in how the other half live. It was a career that lasted several decades but I also eventually found the confidence to return to further education and improve on that grade 4 CSE.

I’ve often wondered what the likes of Mr English or my form teacher, the not too pleasant Mr Miles (‘Milo’ out of earshot), would have made of my being at the chalkface (albeit electronic) and doing the same job as them, I doubt they could have predicted that. Admittedly I trained as a primary teacher, not a secondary one, though even at a very young age I’m sure I can’t be the only one who has sat in class and thought to themselves: if I was in front of those kids, I wouldn’t do it that way… Anyone, by chance, wanting to know the fuller story can read about it in my book:

This page was added on 13/05/2021.

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