The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

October 7, 2013

In tune with the world

Herald-Banner Staff

GREENVILLE — Dwayne Patterson has an ear for music.

He also has an ear for tuning pianos, and he is the fourth generation in his family to tune these instruments.

“When I was 14, we were living in Wolfe City, and my dad started tuning.  I began helping him and learned a little about it,” Patterson said.

The family moved to Greenville where his father bought into a business here — Caudle Instruments — and Patterson completed his last two years of high school at Greenville High School. All the time he had been learning to work as a tuning technician.

“I just got into it and couldn’t get out of it,” he said grinning. “It’s hard work, strenuous work, but I liked meeting the people.

“I’ve tuned all over northeast Texas, and probably longer than anyone in northeast Texas. A lot of them don’t start until they retire (from other jobs).”

A single job can take anywhere from an hour to two or three hours, depending on how long it has been since the piano was last tuned, he said. “And then you have to do a repeat tuning about three months later if it’s been a long time, because the strings will settle.”

He chuckled when recalling that if a piano is in bad shape and is then finally tuned, it will go out again in three months. The owner may say ‘It’s out of tune,’ and call someone else. That person will have an easier job because I’ve done all the (initial) hard work.

“My dad — he was good — used an electronic tuner which is kind of an aid to help. I practiced doing it by ear and finally began doing it all by ear,” he said. “My grandfather tuned by ear.

“You may have heard of a tuning fork. That was the old-fashioned way of tuning. You tap it on your hand and then set the end down on a smooth surface and it gives you a C tone above middle C. But it was hard for me to hit the fork, hold it to my ear with one hand and tune the piano with the other hand. So I do a C note with an electronic tuner, starting with that one note, and then everything from there on is by ear.”

The tension in the strings is adjusted by a tuning hammer (or lever) which has an angled head to turn the pins and change the string tension, he explained. Tuning is a matter of getting the metal strings at the right tension, and the number of strings can vary from 230 to 240.

“Piano strings are made of the highest grade of steel that can be produced,” he said. “In the lower end of the keyboard, the strings have copper wound around them for more vibration. The largest string would be about three-eighths inch in diameter. I carry a supply of strings with me in case a string breaks, and I order replacements from a piano supply house in Chicago.”

He stores the tools and supplies he needs in a large fishing tackle box which he carries in his truck. Among the tools is a string gauge to measure the exact size if he should need to order a replacement string.

During the 1950s Patterson sold pianos from his store in the 2400 block of Stonewall — Patterson Music which later became Patterson Piano. “When I finally closed the store I got a whole lot more tuning jobs because I was more available,” he said.

During a trip to Indiana, he once had the opportunity to play briefly on what he calls “the world’s best piano” — a Bosendorfer, which is made in Austria.

“Kimball Piano owned Bosendorfer, and the piano was in a show room they had set up to for dealers to see. The pianos sell for about $200,000 and take two years to build.” The experience was a thrill for Patterson who laughingly calls himself  “a rinky-dink”  piano player.

In addition to tuning pianos, he enjoys performing with the Crossroads Gospel Band, a group of local men who play in the area. Patterson started the band in about 1996. At the request of the then-manager of Crossroads Mall, Patterson had been playing piano in the mall one night a week and eventually recruited four or five musician friends to join him playing old country-type music. Eventually the group began to play at the Greenville Opry on Lee Street (site of the present Landon Winery garden). There was no admission; an offering was taken up, he said.

A year later Patterson and the band decided to do an anniversary program, and for the occasion he leased Greenville’s Municipal Auditorium. It turned into a benefit program when Patterson learned of a little girl in the Quinlan area who needed $50,000 for bone marrow transplant surgery.

“The Herald-Banner and the radio station started advertising it, and when I made it a benefit program the city manager gave the auditorium rental fee back,” he said. “The Messengers (a local singing group) also took part in the program, and we collected offerings in empty Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets. We took in $1,800 and some cents which I deposited in her bank account in Quinlan.

“Later on we got involved doing benefit programs on the first Friday of the month at the Salvation Army,” he said. The monthly programs still continue, with all donations going to the Salvation Army. Members of the band include Ed Norman, banjo and some vocal; Carl Hall, electric guitar; Joe Hanley, electric base; Randy Hyden, acoustical guitar and harmonica; Bosie Boswell, acoustical guitar and some singing; and Patterson on keyboard.

“Carl, Joe and Ed can sing some of the best harmony I’ve ever heard,” he said. “I sing all the way through the songs, and they join me on the chorus. They’re so good it makes me want to quit,” he added modestly.

Any money the band receives from playing other dates is set aside for donations to those in need.

“This is definitely not a money-making deal,” he commented with a chuckle.

Both Patterson and his wife, Jean, have also been involved with the Hunt County Fair for many years.

“The first fair they ever had I had a piano/organ display which was in a tent. This was before they built the first building,” he said.

He has been on the Fair Board almost since the beginning and has been board president during two tenures totaling 10 years. Jean continues as one of the women directing the Creative Arts Department entries.

The Pattersons were married the year after he graduated from GHS.

“I had known her from school — she was a year behind me,” he said. “I was going to this little church down in Dixon and she was part of a group of girls. I think I dated every one of them before I picked her.”  

The marriage has clearly been a success. They have three daughters and sons-in-law: Debbie and Gary Dellotte, Brenda and Monty Fitzgerald, and Patty and Kevin Jenkins, all of whom live in Hunt County; 14 grandchildren and stepgrandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren and stepgreat-grandchildren.

Patterson says he sometimes debates with himself about whether he will continue doing the gospel band programs.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve said, ‘I’ll quit playing.’ But there are all those senior-age people who come to hear us, and they tell me they enjoy the programs and hearing all the music that they remember.

“Then I decide to stay with it,” he said, grinning.