Johnny Appleseed in Hancock?

Bill Faller, master piano technician in the Monadnock region, is my hero. He is quietly omnipresent, like a spirit, slipping into our churches, concert halls and homes, giving our pianos much-needed makeovers, tweaks and TLC. He even “plants” pianos, or should I say “transplants” them in new places- the Johnny Appleseed of piano cultivation. Many of these pianos have been abandoned- unplayable, extinct relics. (There is a warehouse called Piano Artisans in Fitchburg full of these forsaken, once-loved pianos. Last Thanksgiving, Bill took me there and helped select a piano for the newly renovated lower floor of the Hancock Meeting House. It was a baby grand made by Stanwood…and “Stan” has already become an essential part of our town’s rehearsals, concerts and celebrations, living a new and happy life in that sunny, vibrant space).

With his artful touch, Bill glues, sands, felts, fiddles, tinkers and tunes. He adds humidity stabilizers and mends or replaces broken ivories. He even polishes. Have you ever heard the term “voicing”? I hadn’t but that is his true genius, transforming the sound or “voice” of the piano from a metallic, unsubtle noise to a warm, inviting, flexible voice. And suddenly, the piano becomes fun to play. Under Bill’s care, every piano becomes its best self. 

And Bill remembers when the concerts are and shows up to give the piano its empowering massage. He gave our Yamaha its pre-concert tweak this past Friday in preparation for the highly anticipated performance by Brazilian pianist Cristian Budu. Cristian arrived early Sunday afternoon, in plenty of time to greet and make friends with his piano for the afternoon. He sat down on the bench and played a few impressive bars of music, broke into a huge smile and declared “I love this sound! It is my favorite sound! Thank you!” He stood up and we hugged in our shared glee at how great the piano felt and sounded.

An hour later, Cristian came to our house next door with some scary news. The e-flat, two above middle c, would not play. It broke during his warm up. omg. Beethoven, Debussy, Scriabin…just how many e-flats were going to be missed? Is it possible to play without an e-flat? Panic set in. After a few phone calls, and only voice messages left on a recorder, all I could do was pray that Bill really did show up for the concert. He said he was coming but it was a heart-breakingly gorgeous day..the first real day of spring. Anyone in their right mind would be out raking or pruning or hiking or biking until sunset. Who would not be seduced by the balmy outdoors?

I waited and I paced while Cristian sat upstairs at the compromised keyboard and played as the audience began to trickle and eventually stream in. I think he was trying to adjust to an e-flat-less sound world. "Just how many e-flats are there?" I obsessed. Probably thousands.

It was ten minutes to 4 and another car pulled up. Out jumped Bill, his tool case in hand. “I was outside and didn’t get any of your messages til late,” he said as he ran upstairs to the sanctuary. I heard applause from the awaiting audience, clapping as he strode confidently down the aisle. A few minutes later I heard a cheer worthy of Fenway Park. The concert-goers had been treated to an extra, unexpected performance, witnessing Bill Faller work his own kind of artistry and magic on the piano. It was mersmerizing.

The bell in the steeple rang four times and Debussy filled the church...nuanced, ethereal, powerful and literally, all over the keyboard…a different incarnation of mastery and magic. His playing of Debussy (and Scriabin and Beethoven) was brilliant and more. We were all transfixed. And there were lots and lots of e-flats.

It was quite an afternoon- an unforgettable experience on many levels. But more than anything, it confirmed my hunch that Bill Faller is indeed the Johnny Appleseed of pianos. All he needs is a pan for a hat and some ragged clothes. As Artistic Director of Music on Norway Pond, I am ultimately responsible for all e-flats and more. Thanks to Bill, I went to bed that night with another tune playing in my head..Johnny Appleseed’s famous grace. “Oh the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need - the sun and the rain and the….e-flat key…”

Our entire region of music lovers should join me in a quiet moment of gratitude for having Bill Faller in our midst.