Bill Kinser is a piano tuner who has been accepting encores for more than 50 years.
The 72 year-old Altoona man has been tuning Steinways, Baldwins and countless other pianos across the region since the late 1950s.
His skill and friendship are treasured among clients who are not ready to see Kinser hang up his tuning wedge and hammer any time soon.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Bill Kinser of Altoona has been tuning pianos for more than 50 years and has developed friendships through his work. Here, he prepares to work on the grand piano at the Penn State Altoona campus.
There have been moments over the last few years, however, when Kinser has vowed to take a bow from his work.
"I would [stop], but people won't let me alone," he said.
As electric pianos become more common, the piano tuning business appears to be a dying art, but business continues to thrive for Kinser. He still gets calls from folks who say he was recommended by another client, he said,
He recalled a time when 15 piano tuners gave him competition in Blair County. Now, he can only think of four other tuners in the area.
Kinser has even narrowed his work more by concentrating on grand pianos.
He has tuned the instrument for world-renown pianists such as the duo Ferrante and Teicher and jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.
Ensembles ranging from the Altoona Symphony to the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Tommy Dorsey and The Canadian Tenors have performed with pianos that he has worked on.
He also has taught piano tuning courses at Mount Aloysius College and has worked on the pianos at Penn State-Altoona. While he has boxes of autographs from those professionals, it is his relationships with local clients that keep him moving.
He "keeps plugging away at it," he said, for two reasons:
"I like people, and I like pianos."
His fascination with making the keys sound their best began in boyhood.
His father owned Kinser's Jewelry in Coatesville where Kinser and his brother would "take watches apart." He said his dad never really wanted the children to be jewelers even although it was common for such a business to be "passed down."
Music was ever present in his family as his mother played an upright piano and his father would "try to sing."
"He was so monotone," Kinser said.
Not stopping at watches, Kinser would tinker and tune his parents' piano.
A jeweler friend of his father noticed his tuning abilities and encouraged him to attend Rockwell School of Piano Tuning in Clearfield.
During the time of his schooling at Rockwell in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kinser began to tune pianos for Ford Music Store in Altoona.
"Bill was always in here," said owner Ed Ford, who has boyhood memories of Kinser showing up when his father, Charlie Ford, owned the store. "He's been here forever."
Skip and Gerry Leeper, former owners of Leeper's music in Lewistown, worked with Kinser for 48 years.
"When we were building up our business all those years ago, he developed quite a clientele," Skip Leeper said. Skip's wife, Gerry, added that each time a piano is sold, it needs tuned.
Because the journey into Mifflin County became so repetitive, the Leepers opened up their home for Kinser to stay two days a week.
"He has a key to our house - that's how close he is to us," Gerry Leeper said.
"He is like a brother," Skip Leeper said, and Kinser still comes into the Leepers' home to tune their piano and have dinner.
"He's just an excellent piano tuner. He's very good and he's very fast. A combination like that is hard to come by. It's done and it's done right," Skip Leeper said.
Professional pianist Koya Ohmoto of State College is another client who describes Kinser as a friend.
"He was just here this week," she said. "We went to lunch together. He's not only a piano tuner but he is a friend. He is very warm, very faithful."
Ohmoto, music program director for the Central Pennsylvania Music Teachers Association, said she "cannot stand an out of tune piano," and Kinser was recommended to her by the Ford Music store owners more than 30 years ago.
She owns two grand pianos she uses in her home for private lessons and has recommended Kinser's work for her students and to other professionals.
"He's like a history book for us," she said of her and her husband's relationship with Kinser.
"He has taught us how breaking in a new piano is like breaking in new shoes," she said, noting the adjustment of finding the perfect "tune" on a new Steinway.
Not only can Kinser tune a piano but his ability to teach others the trade is "superb," she said.
Ford and the Leepers have other piano tuners they call upon on occasion - many of whom were students of Kinser at Mount Aloysius.
"[Kinser] turned out some real good tuners," Ford said.
Although he continues to tune a few pianos, especially for friends, Kinser said he officially retired at 65, leaving more time for family.
He and wife, Carol, have been married more than 50 years. They have three children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
But he still works a couple of days a week and said he will "probably die with my boots on. I just love what I do."