Since he was 10 years old, Lewis Spivey has been tuning and repairing pianos in Nash County.
“My parents owned a music store, National Music Sales, in downtown Rocky Mount,” he said. “It has been full-time work for over 35 years,” he said.
More than 50 years later, he’s still doing the job. His Nashville-based service, Lewis Spivey Registered Piano Technician, tunes and repairs pianos for a long list of clients, including the Dunn Center for the Performing Arts at N.C. Wesleyan College and numerous local churches.
The music business has been a mainstay in his life. In the 1970s, he worked in sales at W.C. Reid Music Co. on Main Street in Rocky Mount.
“I was tuning pianos part time while I worked in the store in sales, and my clientele base built up to the point where I wanted to go into service work full time rather than be in a retail outlet,” he said. “I don’t know if you are aware of this, but there are no traditional music stores in Rocky Mount or Greenville any longer, no one that carries any real acoustic pianos. The last store we had in Rocky Mount was Maus Music Co., and they have been out of business at least a good 10 to 15 years or more. That wasn’t my family’s business, but I did all the service for them.”
Spivey said he keeps busy with his current client list even though piano as an entertainment option has been on the decline for years.
“It’s not a thriving, booming industry that it once was,” he said. “I think I came up with probably about 30 names of technicians that I knew in Eastern North Carolina that are deceased or not doing any piano work any more, and only about three that have come in during the past 10 years or so to try to take their place.”
Years ago, a majority of people had a piano in their home, but no longer, Spivey said.
“We have more avenues to take away from self-entertainment, and then you come to this day and age with the iPad and the computer games and karate lessons and dance lessons and soccer, and I mean just on and on and on,” Spivey said. “Kids are kind of torn between what they should do, and a lot of parents really don’t recognize the benefits of traditional piano lessons.”
Nonetheless, he has kept busy because there are few people who offer his service.
“Right now, there is not a whole lot of people doing this,” he said. “There is no one between Raleigh and Greenville that is doing it to the level that I do.”
Each year, Spivey awards piano camp scholarships for leading students who compete in the PianOlympics competition.
Q: What products or services do you provide?
A: Piano care, piano tuning and repair. I do concert tunings for any performers who come through (Rocky Mount), especially like (those performing) at the Dunn Center. That keeps me very busy.
There are various aspects of the profession. Tuning is the actual adjusting the tension on the strings so that they vibrate at the proper tension. Regulating is adjusting all of the little different mechanical parts so that it has the proper touch and specs so that it plays properly. And voicing is adjusting the tone quality of the piano by either hardening or softening the little hammer belts in the piano.
I’ve received advanced training from Steinway & Sons, Yamaha, Baldwin, Wurlitzer, Mason & Hamlin and many other experts in piano technology.
Q: Who are your key leaders?
A: I’m the owner of the company.
Q: How many people do you employ?
Q: What is your business philosophy?
A: Quality, professional service. You will receive the same service on the home piano that recording artists and performers receive.
Q: What makes your business unique?
A: The personal service. I own the company. I’m the only employee. I don’t send anyone else out to do a service call or to a home. In this day and age you are lucky if you ever see a doctor. You usually get the physician’s assistant or the nurse or who knows what. When they hire me to come in, they get the actual M.D. full time in their home.
RPT is a designation for a registered piano technician. There are vigorous tests that have to be executed and passed in order to have that designation.
Q: How has your business grown?
A: I’m working at 95 percent capacity. I have been very blessed. I stay about as busy as want to be.
Q: What kind of growth do you expect in the coming years?
A: I’m actually in process of winding down. I would consider myself semiretired. I’m looking at cutting back.