Sep 08, 2010 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Kenneth Williams patiently tuned a six-foot Baldwin grand piano one Thursday morning at the New York State Fair. Fielding questions from the Observer proved no distraction to Williams. Nor did the bustling sounds of a fair setting up for the day.
“A lot of the sighted tuners can’t stand these trucks and the people,” said Williams, who has been without sight since he was 2 years old.
Now a resident of Camelot Circle in Syracuse, Williams has lived in the area for 56 years. For 47 of those years he’s been the piano tuner at Onondaga Community College.
Williams vied for the piano tuner spot at the fair for 20 years before landing the gig in 1989.
“I’d keep going to the front and I’d say to management, ‘That’s one job that I’d like to have,'” he said. Williams paid close attention to the work of the tuner before him and knew he could top it.
“The pianos didn’t stay in tune worth a toot!” he said.
When the piano tuner eventually left for another job in Batavia, Williams was the natural choice to replace him.
During Williams’ years at the fair he’s tuned pianos for some big names, including Alicia Keys, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Ronnie Milsap. Not once has he been nervous.
“Some people are very nervous tuning for the big guys, but since I only have one tuning, why be nervous?”
Williams delivers his finest product every time.
“I feel Mrs. Jones is just as entitled to as good a tuning I can do as Tony Bennett,” he said. “Hey, if you charge her good money, she deserves the best you can do.”
As the tuner, Williams has been able to meet his share of talented musicians. “Anybody I want to meet,” he said. He was especially struck by Barry Manilow’s demeanor backstage.
“I was surprised to see how shy Barry Manilow was,” he said. “If he had a mic in his hand, he could talk and sing but when we were in the mess hall, he was shy as could be.”
At one point Manilow made everyone leave the room. When Manilow learned that Williams was his piano tuner, he made an exception.
“Oh he can stay,” Manilow said. “Bring him over to my table.”
A lifetime craft
Williams took an interest in the trade in seventh grade when he took a nine-week course as a student at the New York State School for the Blind in Batavia. He showed an aptitude for it, and advanced his skills throughout high school, where he eventually studied as an apprentice.
“I could’ve gone to college, but I was on welfare in Jefferson County and I wanted to get a job as soon as I could,” Williams said. “So I took this as a trade.”
With an impressive career behind him, Williams is not slowing down just yet.
“It just comes natural for me,” he said. “And I like it and I’m gonna do it as long as I like it.”