Norman Vesprini is Notre Dame’s first-ever full-time piano technician. In addition to tuning, repairing and fixing 110 pianos across campus, Vesprini also teaches both the Moreau First Year Experience course and Applied Piano Technology, a one-credit class that focuses on oral tuning practices and piano mechanics. Vesprini’s office, originally located in Crowley Hall but now found in the recently constructed O’Neill Hall of Music, is covered in trinkets that showcase his personality. Plants sit on his cabinet, cover his desk and dangle from the wall; a mocha coffee pot that rests on his desk serves as a pencil holder; and running medals and race numbers cover a portion of his office wall. When he’s not working, Vesprini likes to do crosswords, roast his own coffee and spend time with his four kids.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How did you come into your job as the piano tuner at Notre Dame?
I’m in my seventh year here, and I’m the first-ever full-time piano technician at Notre Dame. The long story is I was doing my masters in piano performance at the University of Michigan, took a course in piano technology, liked it, went off and played and taught for nine years and then joined the Piano Technology Department at the University of Michigan. I was there for 11 years. In 2016, my supervisor emailed me the Notre Dame job posting. He’s a wonderful person, and he always said, “Norman, I’ll always do what I can to help you out.” He forwarded me the job description, and I said “Oh, that kind of sounds like me.” So I stayed up until one in the morning on Friday writing my three- paragraph letter and updating my resumé since the job was closing on Sunday. Then it went very quickly; I applied in February of 2016 and started in July of 2016.
What are the duties of a piano technician? How many tunings do you do a day?
At Notre Dame, I take care of about 110 pianos, and I work for several different areas. I work for the Department of Music and Sacred Music at Notre Dame primarily, but I also work for the Division of Student Affairs and the Debartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC). I take care of 56 pianos in O’Neill Hall of Music, including a recital hall and a large performance space. I take care of all of the residence hall chapel pianos for the Division of Student Affairs and also places like Coleman-Morse (Como). The third floor of Como — where Campus Ministry is — has a number of pianos. I also take care of odds and ends like Washington Hall and the ballroom up in LaFun. At DPAC, I take care of the pianos on stage. My duties are to maintain all those instruments in good condition which involves tuning them, fixing them, repairing them and regulating them so that they perform well.
The most full tunings I’ll do in a day is four, but I prefer to only do three because a tuning takes me about 75 minutes. It’s very physical and demanding, so it’s not the kind of thing you can do continually over an extended period of time. Generally, by the time I get to the end of the tuning cycle, the beginning pianos are out of tune and are ready to be tuned again. So the cycle never really ends, and it’s perpetual work.
What is your favorite part of your job? Do you engage a lot with students or mostly other faculty members?
My favorite part of my job is that I get to go all over the place, because I am not a sit-still person; I would feel as though I were in handcuffs if I were sitting at a desk. I love being in the residence hall chapels — that’s a great blessing. It’s a really unique and special part of what I do. Along with all of the places I get to work are all of the people I get to engage with. I do engage with students when I can. Sometimes there are students in residence hall chapels when I get there to tune, they might be playing the piano, and we get a chance to talk. Some might come in while tuning work is going on to hear the tuning, to kind of see what’s going on. I do teach Moreau, so that helps me engage with students a little more. I also teach Applied Piano Technology which is open to any student, so sometimes I get to meet more students that way, especially those interested in piano.