Arden piano tuner plies trade for McCartney

Doug Schafer didn’t get to meet Paul McCartney when he landed in Edmonton for two concerts at Rexall Place last week, but he did give the former Beatle a big hand.

Schafer has been tuning pianos for more than three decades, including the pianos at the Arden Theatre here in St. Albert and for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and was tasked with making sure the piano in McCartney’s Edmonton hotel room sounded just right.

Doug Schafer, who tunes pianos for several theatres and concert halls in the Edmonton area — including the Arden Theatre — got a chance to do so for Sir Paul McCartney last week. (Supplied)

“I considered it an honour to do the work for [McCartney],” Schafer said. “I didn’t meet him; I just worked on the piano in his hotel suite, prepped it and tuned it and got it ready for him. That was good enough for me; just a once-in-a-lifetime experience working for probably the most highly recognized musician on the planet.”

Schafer was also on call for tunings at Rexall Place, but unfortunately didn’t get the call for that job.

The opportunity came about when McCartney’s hotel needed to rent a piano for his suite.

“I knew of a piano that could be rented, and they wanted to deal with a small company, an individual, for security reasons. They didn’t want to call a big piano store and talk to a receptionist because it would have been blabbed all over the place,” Schafer said.

Schafer runs a piano servicing and rebuilding company near Spruce Grove and has been tuning pianos — mostly grand pianos — for 36 years after teaching himself the craft.

“I started when I was 21 years old, and when I was 26, I was offered the contract at the Jubilee Auditorium, and it went from there. I did all the concerts for the Jubilee and the ESO, and when the Winspear opened, I went over there. I also take care of the Dow Centre [in Fort Saskatchewan] and the Horizon Stage [in Spruce Grove] and the Arden Theatre and Rexall Place,” he said.

“It was just something I decided I wanted to do,” he added. “I got some reading materials, I enrolled in a correspondence course that had about 20 lessons, and I think I got to lesson nine or 10, and it became very mundane, so I never did graduate. I just absorbed whatever information I needed as to the procedures of starting on the keyboard and how to set up the first initial octave, which is the most important octave; you have to get it bang-on, because the rest of the piano is done in reference to that octave.”

And while Schafer will continue tuning and rebuilding, he can’t imagine a career highlight much bigger than he had last week.

“As I said to my wife, I’ve reached my pinnacle. Where do you go beyond Paul McCartney?” he said with a laugh.

— GLENN COOK, St. Albert Leader