Bill Garlick: The Long Reach of Mentorship

Bill Garlick passed away recently, after an extended and, to me, somewhat shocking decline. When I last saw Bill, in June of 1982, he was a force of nature, at the peak of his powers as a teacher and mentor of budding piano technicians. And I know numbers of techs who received a start directly or indirectly from Bill. Locally, there's Bob Cassidy, who studied with him in 1974, and David Stanwood in 1979 (?). Then, of course, his students David Betts, Christine Lovgren, and Jack Stebbins, who have carried on the teaching at North Bennet Street these 30+ years. "Pull your socks up," was a quote Chris reminded me of the other night at the Boston PTG meeting. That was so Bill, along with his un-Boston-like attire of Lederhosen, sandals, and knee socks!

I came to NBSS with three years experience as a piano technician, seeking to learn and hone my skills, certainly, but also full of my recently gathered "knowledge" and experience. I think my leading questions may have been a trial for Bill at times, disrupting of his carefully crafted curriculum. But certainly his leading questions, tests, and practical demonstrations were of great value to me. And his organized trips to the Steinway factory in New York, to the harpsichord workshops of Hubbard and Dowd, and to Herb Benedict's barn...

But his most enduring act of mentorship came in the form of, pardon the expression, a kick in the pants. Shortly before my graduation from NBSS in the spring of 1982, Bill asked me to fill in for him at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, tuning for a fund-raising concert in Remis Auditorium. At the time, I was (as Isaac Sadigursky aptly puts it) a Michelangelo tuner, each opus a Sistine Chapel artwork, i.e., my tunings generally took 2 hours and longer. Fortunately, I arrived early, some three hours before the concert, because I don't think this 19th century upright had been tuned in the 20th century. It had no aftertouch at all. It was two whole steps flat. Action screws were totally loose. But it had lovely brass candelabras and, clearly, it was a work of high German craftsmanship, inside and out, just - not concert-ready.

Fortunately, there was a storage room with good light and quiet rollably offstage, around a corner, and through a door. Adrenaline kicked in. Bridle straps were disintegrated so I removed the keys as well as the action, removed all non-cloth frontrail punchings, manually reinserted the keys, took up 100+ years of lost motion, pitch raised it three times, and finished my "tuning" with case parts back in place and the piano rolled onstage in 3 hours and five minutes.

Bill had tapped my warrior roots, reminded me of the rise-to-the-occasion-and-finish-while-appearing-calm piano technician's mandate, and handed me over his best client as he was leaving for New York to work for Steinway.

His "sink or swim" gesture set me swimming.

Cheers, Bill. I should have thanked you a long time ago for that ordeal. 


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