Campus & Community

The Big Picture

3 min read

Laurie Cote, University tuner

Laurie Cote loves pianos and loves being around them. He plays, but his passion is getting them to sing in their best voices.

“I love the piano,” said Cote, who has tuned pianos at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for the past 18 years. “They have a beautiful lush sound, bell-like. It almost makes you think it’ll be fattening to play.”

This is Cote’s busy season. He figures the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has 180 to 200 pianos. With the end of the heating season and humidity levels fluctuating, they’ll need tuning.

Cote, who works out of the Vanserg Piano Shop, knows the campus’s piano population. He knows which ones need regular tuning and which need only occasional work.

And he knows piano royalty. The Steinway concert grand piano at Sanders Theatre gets regular attention. It is tuned every week, and if there are concerts held there, it can be tuned more often.

“There are Steinway concert grands that are better, but I haven’t seen many,” said Cote.

Cote said it takes him an hour or so to fully tune a piano, but pianos that are tuned regularly don’t usually take that long. Cote, who is legally blind, can see well enough to ride a bicycle, so he normally gets to the campus’s various pianos by pedaling. Recent surgery has kept him off the bicycle this spring; he’s eagerly anticipating riding around campus – as well as the eight miles to his home in Medford – this summer.

Cote began piano tuning many years ago. He learned to tune pianos at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, which offered piano tuning as a vocational training option. Cote had already begun taking piano playing lessons, but he didn’t think he was good enough to make a career as a pianist. By tuning pianos, he said, he’s been able to build a career around the instrument he loves.

“I decided if I became a piano tuner and hung around pianos long enough, good things would happen,” Cote said. “And I was right.”

Cote said he still enjoys his work – and it’s had a beneficial side effect. As he became a more proficient tuner, he said, his piano playing improved. Now he plays an occasional concert at his church in Belmont and is practicing for an upcoming gathering of friends in Athol.

“A beautiful piano still excites me,” Cote said. “I always wanted to be a tuner. And I still like doing it.”