“Dear Mr. Musselwhite…”
“Dear Mr. Musselwhite…”
An E-Mail prompts a third generation Piano Technician to reminisce about his life, his father, his family, and his profession.
“Dear Mr. Musselwhite…” Excerpt #1
Caleb Henry Musselwhite was born on May 11, 1906, in Saskatoon Saskatchewan. This date is significant because it was just after the great San Francisco earthquake. Cal started his life just as that great city was being reborn and felt a great affinity for it for his entire life. It is as if he felt a spiritual connection to it because of this coincidence. He must have passed this somewhat new-age belief to me, for I was born on May 12, 1959, just after Architect Frank Lloyd Wright died. I have always thought that I could be Wright’s reincarnation. Maybe old Frank had enough of the fame and fortune and wanted to do something in his next life other than build unusual houses. Or maybe, he is just paying for the consternation of his bewildered clients.
Cal was the father of five (of which I was the youngest), the husband of two (but that’s another story), and a Piano Tuner. Cal’s father, Frederick William Musselwhite III was also a Piano Tuner, and this trade was passed through them to two of Cal’s sons, John and myself. Thus it is that stories about pianos are peppered throughout this book, although many “non-piano” stories also find their way onto these pages.
The other legacy I am heir to is the love of books. Both my father and mother, and both of their fathers too, were avid readers and collectors. Today, my oldest brother Bill (Frederick William Musselwhite IV) carries on a family tradition, as he writes, collects and sells books. So, if it is true that one should write about what one knows, it is perhaps only natural that I should collect what I know about pianos, my father, my family, and my life, into the pages of a book.
Dad had a long life before I arrived on this planet. My siblings could easily fill the pages of books of their own, and I hope that someday they may. There is so much of my father’s life I never experienced, and so much of him that is therefore not included in this book. That is only to be expected.
However, what was not expected was the degree to which this book has become something of an autobiography. Indeed, I must say that I am rather embarrassed at this fact. But then, my experience with pianos, my father and the rest of my family was after all, the experience of my life, and as it turns out, there is no way to separate them. Still, the original purpose was not to acquaint the reader with my life, or with the life of a Piano Technician, but to honor the memory of my father.
Dad was not as rich as Frank Lloyd Wright, nor as famous as San Francisco. He was not the greatest Technician that ever lived or, for that matter, much of a businessman. He did have one amazing talent: people loved and respected him as a person. I say “talent”, for if it had been a skill, he would have tried to pass it onto me, as he did so many other things.
Like every other person, he had his failings and shortcomings, some of which are brought to life in this story. These faults are suppositions on my part based on what I have learned about him through examining myself and questioning the people who knew him. They were never evident to me as I was growing up, for like most young people, all I ever experienced was how life affected me. I never knew my father as he knew himself. I didn’t know him as a customer, or as a husband, or as a friend. He lives in me though; I feel him whenever I am tuning, and I hear him whenever I play Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.”
I apologize in advance for the liberty I have undoubtedly taken with his memory, and with the memories of others, in the writing of this book. Life is like that though: we remember what we want, forget the facts, and play with the blocks of memory until we have built up our own version of reality. This is my excuse: I simply wanted to introduce you to this wonderful, warm gentleman, who was so dear to the hearts of many, and in the process, I wanted to share what he has shared with me.
“Dear Mr. Musselwhite…” Excerpt #2
My father routinely did the concert tunings for the Calgary Philharmonic on the stage of the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Of course, I often went along. We would enter through the Stage Door, where the guard would greet us by name and then, while Dad tuned, I would explore. I knew every nook and cranny of that building like the back of my hand. The stage crew who worked there would often let me sit by them in the Lighting Lighting Booth, the Sound Booth, or in the Stage Manager’s office.
Sometimes, if I was really lucky, there would be no one there except my dad and I, and the guard at the door. There were many secret places in that building and I would pretend I was a spy, infiltrating the “enemy’s secret laboratory”. One time, I remember, I snuck onto the lighting catwalk high above the stage, my father a small speck far below. I loved the adrenalin rush of heights and dangerous places, and revelled in the fantasy that I was one step away from a marvellously romantic obituary.
Dad would have no idea where I wandered, but I knew when it was time to return. He would play a series of scales to check his work when he had finished tuning and then launch into “The Man I Love.” That would be my cue to come back to his side.
I remember once sitting in the farthest seat in the top balcony of that huge Auditorium as he tuned. I must have been more than a football field’s length away and yet, when I called to him after he had finished his ‘finale’, he heard me and said softly back, “Time to go.” I heard him as clear as a bell.
Once I had learned to play the Piano, he would ask me to play for him. I would sit at the big black Steinway in that auditorium and imagine the empty seats filled first with an expectant audience, and then with the roar of a standing ovation as I finished. In actuality, my Dad would place his hand softly on my shoulder and smile.
Many years later, on stage at the new Jack Singer Hall, I played to a sold out crowd with both my parents in the audience. I finished with Dad’s “signature tune,” and although I could not see him through the blazing lights, I could feel that gentle hand on my shoulder as the room filled with the sound of applause. I stood, gave a short bow and said, unheard through the noise, “That was for you, Dad.”
First Edition © 1999 James Musselwhite
Second Edition © 2011 James Musselwhite
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
Published by Heart Dance Music Publishing
Distributed in Canada by Canada Post
and sometimes by me, on foot, or by e-mail.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Synopsis: An E-Mail prompts a third generation Piano Technician to reminisce about his life, his father, his family, and his profession.
Musselwhite, James E.
Dear Mr. Musselwhite…
1. Biography – Anecdotes, humor, etc.
2. Music – Piano, Piano Technicians, Piano Technical, Pipe Organs, etc.