This is the man — the man largely responsible for rounding up the 20 pianos now in Seattle-area parks. And for getting them to sound good and even great. Without Ben Klinger, PIANOS IN THE PARKS may not have happened.
Q&A with Ben Klinger
The Man Behind the Pianos in the Parks
Q: Ben, how does a mild-mannered guy like you round up 20 extra pianos in a couple of months?
Ben: Finding 20 playable pianos for donation is not easy. It was actually a crazy process and a bit daunting. But we did it — thanks to the support of my exceedingly generous employer, Classic Pianos, and my team here.
Q: What were the logistics?
Ben: Three of the pianos came from the University of Oregon, including the one at Westlake Center. Several others came to Classic Pianos as trade-ins for grand pianos. We actually pulled another six off our retail floor and donated them. The rest came from families all over the Northwest who had owned them for generations and felt this was a good time to let go.
Q: What condition are these pianos in now?
Ben: They’re actually in good playing condition. Some required many hours of work. But in general, most of their issues were cosmetic – like the cabinets had dents or scratches or graffiti. And because of that, they have little or no retail value. But the amazing paint jobs the Gage Academy artists did on them brought all these pianos back to life.
Q: All the pianos in the parks actually sound good. How do you do that?
Ben: Before delivering the pianos to the parks, we prepped each one several times. Follow-up tuning in the parks is hard because it’s outdoors. But we make the rounds, and work on maybe a couple of pianos a day to keep them in good shape. We bring the “unisons” into tune (the three notes per string), and we make sure the “actions” (how keys move) are good.
Q: What about the grand piano at Seattle Center?
Ben: This is a 6.5-foot grand, hand-made by Chickering in Boston in the 1890s. We had already put a fair amount of time – and money — into restoring this grand, long before it went to Seattle Center. And it is quite viable musically. So it’s a great piece for the Pianos in the Park piano auction.
Q: Why pianos and why now?
Ben: In the past, piano playing was a part of our culture. Many homes had pianos, and more people played them. Today, it’s a specialized pursuit. But it doesn’t have to be. Put a piano out, and kids will come. We’ve seen this happen with Pianos in the Parks. Check out the Facebook page: it’s usually the kids who are first to make their way over and start playing. I love their excitement. Pianos in the Parks is just a great way to put the spotlight on pianos, provide access to them and bring the community together through piano music, as in times past.
Q: What draws you to pianos?
Ben: Sound and texture. I studied piano and commercial arranging at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. After graduation, I played and taught and arranged musical compositions for all sorts of groups — from big bands to small ensembles. In the mid-1990s, I entered the piano retail industry in Boston, before moving to Seattle.
Each piano built is a little different, just like people are different. In 2012, I published a piano-buying guide called Why We Play to get people to think philosophically about finding the piano that’s the best match for them.