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Econ 919 — Peninsula Piano Tuning and Service

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Piano technician and small business owner Robbie Haanen tunes a piano
Hunter Morrison
Piano technician and small business owner Robbie Haanen tunes a piano

In his shop in a neighborhood in Kasilof, piano technician Robbie Haanen tunes an upright piano.

One by one, he tightens the strings with a specially made tuning hammer, which looks similar to a socket wrench. The piano is one of several being serviced by Peninsula Piano Tuning and Service, the only full-time piano repair and tuning company on the Kenai Peninsula.

“A lot of improving the experience for the piano player is making their piano the best it can be for them," Haanen said. "You can do work to the hammers, you can do work to the piano action itself to make it a more playable piano.” 

Peninsula Piano Tuning and Service has been repairing pianos across the peninsula for about a year and a half, fixing pianos as far as Halibut Cove. Before opening, the closest full-time piano technician was based in Anchorage.

“It’s kind of lonely," Haanen jokingly said. "No, it’s good, I enjoy it. I enjoy talking to people about music, in particular, piano because it’s such a great instrument.”

Although he’s always enjoyed piano servicing as a hobby, Haanen didn’t pursue it full-time until he and his wife relocated to Alaska from Oregon. Before moving, he worked as a journeyman mechanic and apprenticed under a notable piano technician. Haanen also regularly works on pianos alongside Timothy Nixon, the owner of Kenai’s former Nixon Piano Company.

Haanen’s job consists of work both in the shop and in the field. He says in most cases, he only brings pianos back to the shop that are in need of major repairs.

“Generally, when you tune a piano, you go to somebody’s house, because when you move a piano they need to be tuned again," Haanen said. "The wood flexes, the strings stretch and contract a little bit by the wood flexing, so it tends to throw them out of tune and out of pitch a little bit.”

Since relocating to the peninsula, Haanen says he services anywhere from four to six pianos per month. He says he sees an uptick in business around the holidays, as people begin to host group meals and get-togethers. He’s also serviced pianos for a few local concerts and music teachers.

One of the schools Haanen tunes for has a very small budget, which he provides some services to free of charge. He hopes his services can help facilitate a more enjoyable piano-playing experience for students.

“You can’t really overstate the importance of a good music scene for the young ones here," Haanen said. "It helps to develop kids socially, mathematically, and it’s just a good thing. So, I think it’s worthwhile to put that effort in and give back to the community in that way a little bit.” 

Back in his shop, Haanen talks about the art of piano tuning. He says some pianos can have as many as 10,000 moving parts, which can make tuning really hard work. Although he could make more money servicing pianos in a larger metropolitan area, Haanen says it was easier for him to pursue his passion on the Kenai Peninsula.

“You really learn how to interact with people, and you learn how to listen," he said. "You listen to what they need. If they say ‘my key is not working,’ you have to use discernment to figure out ‘okay, key, do you have kids?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Okay maybe there’s a Lego under the key.’ You wouldn’t think it would happen but it happens somehow, the lid opens, it falls down, hits the action, bounces under the key. But just trying to facilitate their needs by paying attention to what they’re saying.” 

While he has a love for music, Haanen says he’s just now beginning to learn how to play piano. For more information about Peninsula Piano Tuning and Service, be sure to check out their Facebook page.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL
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